Objective: To develop new standardized eye tracking based measures and metrics for infants' gaze dynamics in the face-distractor competition paradigm.
Method: Eye tracking data were collected from two samples of healthy 7-month-old (total n = 45), as well as one sample of 5-month-old infants (n = 22) in a paradigm with a picture of a face or a non-face pattern as a central stimulus, and a geometric shape as a lateral stimulus. The data were analyzed by using conventional measures of infants' initial disengagement from the central to the lateral stimulus (i.e., saccadic reaction time and probability) and, additionally, novel measures reflecting infants gaze dynamics after the initial disengagement (i.e., cumulative allocation of attention to the central vs. peripheral stimulus).
Results: The results showed that the initial saccade away from the centrally presented stimulus is followed by a rapid re-engagement of attention with the central stimulus, leading to cumulative preference for the central stimulus over the lateral stimulus over time. This pattern tended to be stronger for salient facial expressions as compared to non-face patterns, was replicable across two independent samples of 7-month-old infants, and differentiated between 7 and 5 month-old infants.
Conclusion: The results suggest that eye tracking based assessments of infants' cumulative preference for faces over time can be readily parameterized and standardized, and may provide valuable techniques for future studies examining normative developmental changes in preference for social signals.
Significance: Standardized measures of early developing face preferences may have potential to become surrogate biomarkers of neurocognitive and social development.