Infants' neural processing of positive emotion and eye gaze.Soc Neurosci. 2010; 5(1):30-9.SN
Previous research demonstrated that young infants' neural processing of novel objects is enhanced by a fearful face gazing toward the object. The current event-related potential (ERP) study addresses the question of whether this effect is driven by the particular threat-value of a fearful expression or whether a positive emotion could elicit a similar response. Three-month-old infants' brain responses were measured while infants were presented with happy and neutral faces gazing toward simultaneously presented objects (Experiment 1) or happy and neutral faces gazing away from objects (Experiment 2). Then the objects were presented again without the face. While infants showed an increased neural response for happy relative to neutral faces looking towards objects, infants did not differentiate between happy and neutral faces gazing away from the objects. Furthermore, infants showed no different response to objects alone in Experiment 1. However, infants responded with an increased negative central component (Nc) indicating increased attention for objects in the neutral face condition in Experiment 2. The current results confirm previous findings showing that infants allocate increased attention to an emotional face if it directs eye gaze toward an object in the environment. However, a happy expression does not increase subsequent processing of the gaze-cued object. The findings are discussed in terms of early social cognitive development.