Measuring the Development of Social Attention Using Free-Viewing


should be sent to Michael C. Frank, Department of Psychology, Stanford University, 450 Serra Mall, Jordan Hall (Building 420), Stanford, CA 94309. E-mail:


How do young children direct their attention to other people in the natural world? Although many studies have examined the perception of faces and of goal-directed actions, relatively little work has focused on what children will look at in complex and unconstrained viewing environments. To address this question, we showed videos of objects, faces, children playing with toys, and complex social scenes to a large sample of infants and toddlers between 3 and 30 months old. We found systematic developmental changes in what children looked at. When viewing faces alone, younger children looked more at eyes and older children more at mouths, especially when the faces were making expressions or talking. In the more complex videos, older children looked more at hands than younger children, especially when the hands were performing actions. Our results suggest that as children develop they become better able to direct their attention to the parts of complex scenes that are most interesting socially.