Top-Down Modulation of Face Perception in Infancy: A Study of Facilitated Processing and Performance

Dombrowski, Natasha [Browse]
Senior thesis


Emberson, Lauren L. [Browse]
Princeton University. Department of Psychology [Browse]
Princeton University. Program in Neuroscience [Browse]
Class year
Summary note
Initially in life, infants use bottom-up processing, the automatic attentional process of scanning one’s surroundings, to perceive the stimuli that are most salient to them. It has been presumed that some time towards the end of their first year of life a shift occurs, and infants begin to use top-down processing in addition to bottom-up. Top-down processing involves the voluntary processing of a stimulus triggered by some cue that focuses attention. It is vital in creating associations that lead to predictions and facilitate processing. We use bottom-up processing, the automatic scanning of our surroundings, to take in stimuli, while top-down processes can guide attention to particular features in sensory input to improve perception. This shift in attentional mechanisms could affect important processes like face perception but it has yet to be tested whether there are top-down effects in face perception in infancy and when they emerge. This study tests the relationship between top-down processing and face recognition in infants. Using the visibility curves established for adults and infants in a previous study as the basis for experimental design (Gelskov & Kouider, 2010), it was hypothesized that pairing the presentation of a face stimulus with a preceding auditory cue would create an expectation that elicited top-down modulation of perception, making infants and adults better at seeing faces when presented for a short amount of time than they otherwise would be. Both adults and infants between the ages of 10 months and 12 months and 29 days were tested using this paradigm. It was found that, while adults do show a visibility curve similar to the one found in previous work (Gelskov & Kouider, 2010), their perception is not modulated by top-down influences. Infants likewise showed no improvement in perceptual abilities as a result of a sound cue in addition to chance-level face recognition. It is, therefore, not possible to confirm from these results that top-down effects modulate perception in infants or adults.

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