Tuning the developing brain to social signals of emotion

Department of Psychology, University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland.
Nature Reviews Neuroscience (Impact Factor: 31.43). 01/2009; 10(1):37-47. DOI: 10.1038/nrn2554
Source: PubMed


Humans in different cultures develop a similar capacity to recognize the emotional signals of diverse facial expressions. This capacity is mediated by a brain network that involves emotion-related brain circuits and higher-level visual-representation areas. Recent studies suggest that the key components of this network begin to emerge early in life. The studies also suggest that initial biases in emotion-related brain circuits and the early coupling of these circuits and cortical perceptual areas provide a foundation for a rapid acquisition of representations of those facial features that denote specific emotions.

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    • "Face processing, or the ability to extract information such as emotional expression, group membership, and identity from a face, is a prototypical perceptual function. Soon after birth, infants demonstrate attentional orienting toward faces, facial features like eyes, and displays of biologically based movement (Simion et al., 2008; Leppanen and Nelson, 2009; McKone et al., 2012; Senju et al., 2013; Bidet-Ildei et al., 2014). Directing attention to the eyes may be a congenital feature as even infants of blind parents, for whom eyes contain no inherent social information, tend to focus on the eyes (Senju et al., 2013). "
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    • "Similar biases are proposed for the representation of emotional expressions (Lepp€ anen & Nelson, 2009). Humans convey emotional states not only through facial expressions but also through vocalizations as well as body motion, and consistently interpret emotions of moving agents (Atkinson, Dittrich, Gemmell, & Young, 2004; Crane & Gross, 2007; Karg, Kühnlenz, & Buss, 2010), independent of shape (McDonnell, J€ org, McHugh, Newell, & O'Sullivan, 2009). "
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    • "However, from a developmental perspective, it is not known when in infancy this unconscious fear processing from eyes emerges. More specifically, it is unclear whether it is present before 7 months of age or, similar to the conscious perception of fearful faces (Peltola, Leppänen, Mäki, et al., 2009), only emerges around 7 months of age. In order to test between these two possibilities, we measured 5-month-old infants' ERPs in response to subliminally presented fearful and non-fearful eyes and compared these to 7-month-old infants' ERP responses from a previous study (Jessen & Grossmann, 2014). "
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