Adults exhibit enhanced attention to negative emotions like fear, which is thought to be an adaptive reaction to emotional information. Previous research, mostly conducted with static faces, suggests that infants exhibit an attentional bias toward fearful faces only at around 7 months of age. In a recent study (Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 2016, Vol. 147, pp. 100–110), we found that 5-month-olds also exhibit heightened attention to fear when tested with dynamic face videos. This indication of an earlier development of an attention bias to fear raises questions about developmental mechanisms that have been proposed to underlie this function. However, Grossmann and Jessen (Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 2016, Vol. 153, pp. 149–154) argued that this result may have been due to differences in the amount of movement in the videos rather than a response toemotional information. To examine this possibility, we tested a new sample of 5-month-olds exactly as in the original study (Heck, Hock, White, Jubran, & Bhatt, 2016) but with inverted faces. We found that the fear bias seen in our study was no longer apparent with inverted faces. Therefore, it is likely that infants’ enhanced attention to fear in our study was indeed a response to emotions rather than a reaction to arbitrary low-level stimulus features. This finding indicates enhanced attention to fear at 5 months and underscores the need to find mechanisms that engender the development of emotion knowledge early in life.
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This research was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation (BCS-1121096) and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (HD075829).
Heck, Alison; Hock, Alyson J.; White, Hannah B.; Jubran, Rachel L.; and Bhatt, Ramesh S., "Further Evidence of Early Development of Attention to Dynamic Facial Emotions: Reply to Grossmann and Jessen" (2017). Psychology Faculty Publications. 178.