Micro-analysis of infant looking in a naturalistic social setting: Insights from biologically based models of attention

Authors: de Barbaro, K., Chiba, A., Deak, G.O.

A current theory of attention posits that several micro-indices of attentional vigilance are dependent on activation of the locus coeruleus, a brainstem nucleus that regulates cortical norepinephrine activity (Aston-Jones et al., 1999). This theory may account for many findings in the infant literature, while highlighting important new areas for research and theory on infant attention. We examined the visual behaviors of n = 16 infants (6–7 months) while they attended to multiple spatially distributed
targets in a naturalistic environment. We coded four measures of attentional vigilance, adapted from studies of norepinergic modulation of animal attention: rate of fixations, duration of fixations, latency to reorientation, and target ‘hits’. These measures showed a high degree of coherence in individual infants, in parallel with findings from animal studies. Results also suggest that less vigilant infants showed greater habituation to the trial structure and more attentiveness to less salient stimuli during periods of high attentional competition. This pattern of results is predicted by the Aston-Jones model of attention, but could not be explained by the standard information processing model.