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Effect of Maternal Sensitivity on Infant Attentional Biases towards Emotional Stimuli

Affect-biased attention describes patterns of preferential looking toward emotionally salient stimuli such as faces. These attention biases are suggested to affect how individuals perceive and respond to their environment, and have been linked to increased risk for internalizing disorders. However, the development of these biases, especially in infancy, is largely unknown. The current study investigates a possible predictor of early affect biased attention; maternal sensitivity, or a mother’s ability to accurately interpret and respond to her infant’s signals. Using eye-tracking methodology, attentional biases towards emotional faces were assessed in 69 6-month olds and maternal sensitivity was coded from recordings of mother infant interactions. Overall, infants fixated significantly quicker on angry faces in comparison to sad and happy faces, suggesting an initial bias towards the expression of anger. However, maternal sensitivity was not predictive of measures of attentional biases for any of the expressions. These findings highlight the need for further study to fully understand the development of affect-biased attention and pathological risk trajectories beginning in infancy.

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