Year of Publication

2010

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Dissertation

College

Arts and Sciences

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Dr. Ramesh Bhatt

Abstract

The present research addressed the development of specialization in face processing in infancy by examining the roles of race and emotion. An other-race face among own-race faces draws adults’ attention to a greater degree than an own-race face among other-race faces due to the “other-race” feature in other-race faces. This feature underlies race-based differences in adults’ face processing. The current studies investigated the development of this mechanism as well as the influence that this mechanism has on emotion processing in infancy.

In Experiment 1, Caucasian 3.5- and 9- month-olds exhibited a preference for a pattern containing an Asian face among seven Caucasian faces over a pattern containing a Caucasian face among seven Asian faces. This preference was not driven by the majority of elements in the images, because a control group of infants failed to exhibit a preference between homogeneous patterns containing eight Caucasian versus eight Asian faces. The asymmetrical attentional engagement by other-race faces indicates that the other-race feature is developed by 3.5 months of age.

Like race, emotions elicit asymmetrical attention in adults: an emotional face among neutral faces is more rapidly detected than vice versa. In Experiment 2a, 9-month-olds’ preference for a pattern containing a fearful face among neutral faces over a pattern containing a neutral face among fearful faces was greater than their preference for all neutral over all fearful faces. Thus, 9-month-olds exhibited an asymmetry in the processing of emotions. Moreover, this asymmetry was not affected by the race of the faces depicting the emotion. In Experiment 2B, 3.5-month-olds failed to exhibit a preference when tested with the same procedure.

Overall, the data suggest that other-race information is processed as a feature by 3.5- and 9-month-olds, which indicates that infants process other-race information in a different, perhaps categorical, manner than own-race information. Also, other-race information does not disrupt emotion processing by 9-month-olds, which suggests that emotion and race information are processed separately in infancy. Finally, the current results indicate that adult-like asymmetrical attention to emotion develops between 3.5 and 9 months of age.

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Psychology Commons

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