Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Ramesh S. Bhatt


The ability to process information from faces is important for effective social functioning. Adults are experts at this function. It has been suggested that the encoding of configural spatial relations among facial features (e.g., the distance between the eyes) contributes to this expertise. I investigated the developmental origin of face processing expertise by studying typically developing newborns’ sensitivity to the distance between the eyes and between the nose and the mouth in face stimuli. Further, I investigated whether prenatal opioid exposure is associated with neonates’ processing of spatial information in social and non-social stimuli. Infants with prenatal opioid-exposure are at risk for several adverse neurobehavioral effects as well as attention and behavioral problems at school age. Research on both humans and animals converges to suggest that prenatal opioid exposure interferes with the development of proper cognitive functions, specifically, memory for spatial information and general attention. However, very little research has examined the association of prenatal opioid exposure to the development of human infants’ early cognitive functioning. The current studies use a visual paired-comparison procedure to investigate infants’ sensitivity to spatial information on face and non-face images. Both opioid-exposed and non-exposed (typical) infants discriminated subtle spacing changes in face stimuli. However, while non-exposed newborns processed spatial relational information between two non-face objects, opioid-exposed infants failed to exhibit similar sensitivity. Most critically, combined analyses of data of performance on both social and non-social stimuli indicate a general difference in performance such that opioid-exposed infants’ novelty preference scores are lower than non-exposed infants’ scores. These results indicate differences between opioid-exposed and non-exposed infants’ early development and suggests that spatial processing is a mechanism for the compromise of intellectual development.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)