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In NeuroImage ; h5-index 117.0

Electrophysiological studies on adults suggest that humans are efficient at detecting threat from facial information and tend to grant these signals a priority in access to attention, awareness, and action. The developmental origins of this bias are poorly understood, partly because few studies have examined the emergence of a generalized neural and behavioral response to distinct categories of threat in early childhood. We used event-related potential (ERP) and eye-tracking measures to examine children's early visual responses and overt attentional biases towards multiple exemplars of angry and fearful vs. other (e.g., happy and neutral) faces. A large group of children was assessed longitudinally in infancy (5, 7, or 12 months) and at 3 years of age. The final ERP dataset included 148 infants and 132 3-year-old children; and the final eye-tracking dataset included 272 infants and 334 3-year-olds. We demonstrate that 1) neural and behavioral responses to facial expressions converge on an enhanced response to fearful and angry faces at 3 years of age, with no differentiation between or bias towards one or the other of these expressions, and 2) a support vector machine learning model using data on the early-stage neural responses to threat reliably predicts the duration of overt attentional dwell time for threat-related faces at 3 years. However, we found little within-subject correlation between threat-bias attention in infancy and at 3 years of age. These results provide unique evidence for the early development of a rapid, unified response to two distinct categories of facial expressions with different physical characteristics, but shared threat-related meaning.

Xie Wanze, Leppänen Jukka M, Kane-Grade Finola E, Nelson Charles A