Lauren Emberson

Associate Professor

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Infants’ neural responses to sociomoral scenarios via EEG (2023)

A growing body of research has shown that preverbal infants prefer prosocial to antisocial characters, suggesting that the ability to sociomorally evaluate others is early emerging. However, some argue that infants’ responses within these studies reflect low-level perceptual processes rather than social understanding of the events. Using electroencephalography (EEG), the purpose of this research was to address this alternative explanation by examining 1) specific neural signatures that have been associated with social (indexing by P400 and N290 ERP components) versus lower-level attentional processing (indexing by Nc ERP component) and 2) motivational processes involved in infants’ prosocial preferences (indexing by frontal alpha asymmetry for approach/avoidance motivation). Thirty-six 6-month-old infants watched a helping/hindering scenario, in which a character tries but fails to open a box, then is alternatively helped or hindered in opening the box lid. Infants showed greater amplitudes in the P400 component as well as greater N290 component over the right hemisphere channels to hinderers versus helpers (indexing social perception); in contrast, no significant differences were observed for the Nc component (indexing attentional allocation). No motivational processes were observed when infants viewed helping versus hindering videos. Overall, our findings provide evidence for the presence of social processes in infants’ responses to sociomoral actors, suggesting that infants’ responses to sociomoral events are unlikely to be attributable to attentional differences.

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