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Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00222

The Development of Attentional Biases for Faces in Infancy: A Developmental Systems Perspective

  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, United States

We present an integrative review of research and theory on major factors involved in the early development of attentional biases to faces. Research utilizing behavioral, eye-tracking, and neuroscience measures with infant participants as well as comparative research with animal subjects are reviewed. We begin with coverage of research demonstrating the presence of an attentional bias for faces shortly after birth, such as newborn infants' visual preference for face-like over non-face stimuli. The role of experience and the process of perceptual narrowing in face processing are examined as infants begin to demonstrate enhanced behavioral and neural responsiveness to mother over stranger, female over male, own- over other-race, and native over non-native faces. Next, we cover research on developmental change in infants' neural responsiveness to faces in multimodal contexts, such as audiovisual speech. We also explore the potential influence of arousal and attention on early perceptual preferences for faces. Lastly, the potential influence of the development of attention systems in the brain on social-cognitive processing is discussed. In conclusion, we interpret the findings under the framework of Developmental Systems Theory, emphasizing the combined and distributed influence of several factors, both internal (e.g., arousal, neural development) and external (e.g., early social experience) to the developing child, in the emergence of attentional biases that lead to enhanced responsiveness and processing of faces commonly encountered in the native environment.

Keywords: Infancy, social development, attentional biases, perceptual processing, Event-related potentials

Received: 30 Sep 2017; Accepted: 09 Feb 2018.

Edited by:

Tobias Schuwerk, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Germany

Reviewed by:

Przemyslaw Tomalski, University of Warsaw, Poland
Sarah Jessen, University of Lübeck, Germany  

Copyright: © 2018 Reynolds and Roth. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Prof. Greg D. Reynolds, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Department of Psychology, Knoxville, 37996, Tennessee, United States,