Bornstein, Mash, and Arterberry
The study of perceptual processes is a key foundation for understanding behavior and its early development. We focus on visual perception in infants and young children. Some of our recent work has examined infants’ color perception, their visual analysis of complex scenes, and their perception of human faces. A complete understanding of mind and behavior requires knowing about how brains function and develop. Toward this end, we have begun to study brain function in infants, children, and adults using electroencephalography. With this technique we have examined brain responses associated with color perception, face perception and recognition, the brain dynamics of patter recognition. In newer work, we are examining brain function as a measure of developmental outcome in a longitudinal sample with known early challenges, and as a marker of sensory integration in children with autism.
Objects and their visual characteristics must be learned and internally stored so that we can use our visual experience on subsequent occasions. For decades researchers have used visual discrimination tasks to demonstrate that infants indeed are capable of storing visual representations of stimuli. Many questions still remain, however, about the form and utilization of these representations. For instance, how do infants align their direct perception with what they have stored in visual memory? Addressing this question, we are examining how infants discriminate objects they are looking at from those they have seen before. By controlling how they were seen before, and how they are presented for comparison, we can learn about how objects are stored in infants' memory.
Beyond the capacity to represent individual objects, early development must also enable the representation of classes and kinds of objects so that people can efficiently store and effectively generalize their knowledge about those objects. Using again a visual discrimination procedure, we are studying infants' ability to formulate categorically organized representations of different classes of individual objects. In this work we developed a set of novel stimulus objects that belong to 2 different categories of overall appearance. Infants are given a chance to learn about members of one category, then are presented with a member of the other category for comparison. If most infants look longer at the novel-category objects, it suggests that they can form cohesive categorical representations of objects that they had otherwise not seen before coming to the lab.
Vision and Memory for Control of Action
Although perceiving and remembering are vital to a normal existence, they are of little use without guiding other functions such as actions. We have examined the early developments of infants’ ability to utilize vision and memory in the adaptive selection of functional actions. This work has revealed that by 9 months infants take account of secondary objects in the vicinity of a target object, and give additional berth in their reach to the target – a function characteristic of mature actions. Also by 9 month infants can learn correspondences between objects that look similar but weigh different amounts, and select actions adaptively when reaching for them, and by 12 months they can successfully generalize that adaptation to previously unseen objects.
Species-specific Response to Human Infant Faces in the Premotor Cortex
The human infant face represents an essential source of communicative signals on the basis of which adults modulate their interactions with infants. Behavioral studies demonstrate that infants' faces activate sensitive and attuned responses in adults through their gaze, face expression, voice, and gesture. In this study we aimed to identify brain responses that underlie adults' general propensity to respond to infant faces. We recorded fMRI during adults' (non-parents) processing of unfamiliar infant faces compared to carefully matched adult faces and infrahuman mammal infant and adult faces. Human infant faces activated several brain systems including the lateral premotor cortex, supplementary motor area, cingulate cortex, anterior insula and the thalamus. Activation of these brain circuits suggests adults' preparation for communicative behavior with infants as well as attachment and caregiving. The same brain regions preferentially responded to human infant faces when compared to animal infant faces, indicating species-specific adult brain responses. Moreover, results of support vector machine based classification analysis indicated that these regions allowed above chance-level prediction of brain state during perception of human infant faces. The complex of brain responses to human infant faces appears to include biological mechanisms that underlie responsiveness and a caring inclination toward young children which appear to transcend adult's biological relationship to the baby.
Sex Differences in Adult Brain Responses to Infant Hunger Cries
Infant cries are a critical survival mechanism that draw the attention of adult caregivers, who can then satisfy the basic needs of otherwise helpless infants. Here, we used functional neuroimaging to investigate the effects of infant hunger cries on brain activity of adults who were in a cognitively non-demanding mental state of awake rest. We found that the brains of males and females, independent of parental status (parent or non-parent), reacted differently to infant cries. Specifically, dorsal medial prefrontal and posterior cingulate areas, known to be involved in mind-wandering (the stream of thought typical of awake rest), remained active in men during exposure to infant cries, whereas in women activity in these regions decreased. These results reveal gender-dependent modulation of brain responses to infant requests to be fed, and specifically they indicate that women interrupt mind-wandering when exposed to the sounds of infant hunger cries, whereas men carry on without interruption.