Departmental Colloquium: Stefanie Höhl (Heidelberg University, Institute of Psychology): Effects of eye contact and gaze on infants' looking, learning and brain activity
Soon after birth infants are very interested in faces and seem to pay particular attention to eyes. Why is that? In a series of eye tracking and EEG studies we have explored how infants perceive other persons’ eye gaze and how this affects their own brain activity, looking behavior and their learning about novel objects. We discovered that 4-month-old infants recognize objects that were previously cued by another person’s eye gaze and/or head direction. This is true even if only schematic eyes are presented as cues, but not when the objects are cued by non-social dynamic stimuli or contrast-reversed schematic eyes. We also explored infants’ brain activities in response to object-directed and non-object-directed eye gaze across the first year of life and discovered substantial age-related differences. Furthermore, we tested how infants react to eye contact in a live joint attention interaction and found very similar activations in 9-month-olds as in adults. The studies will be discussed in the broader context of infant social cognitive development and learning.