Biases in attention towards facial cues during infancy may have an important role in the development of social brain networks. The current study used a longitudinal design to examine the stability of infants' attentional biases towards facial expressions and to elucidate how these biases relate to emerging cortical sensitivity to facial expressions. Event-related potential (ERP) and attention disengagement data were acquired in response to the presentation of fearful, happy, neutral, and phase-scrambled face stimuli from the same infants at 5 and 7 months of age. The tendency to disengage from faces was highly consistent across both ages. However, the modulation of this behavior by fearful facial expressions was uncorrelated between 5 and 7 months. In the ERP data, fear-sensitive activity was observed over posterior scalp regions, starting at the latency of the N290 wave. The scalp distribution of this sensitivity to fear in ERPs was dissociable from the topography of face-sensitive modulation within the same latency range. While attentional bias scores were independent of co-registered ERPs, attention bias towards fearful faces at 5 months of age predicted the fear-sensitivity in ERPs at 7 months of age. The current results suggest that the attention bias towards fear could be involved in the developmental tuning of cortical networks for social signals of emotion.
2014. Vol. 9, no 6