Infants Preferentially Perceive Faces in the Upper Visual Field

Summary: The upper visual field bias for faces emerges at around 7 months of age. Babies over 7 months developed a preference for memorizing the upper portions of a face.

Source: Chuo University

It has previously been reported that the human visual system has an asymmetry in the visual field. For example, humans are better at finding faces in the upper visual field than lower visual field (called upper visual field bias for faces).

The underlying mechanisms of this visual field bias are subject to much debate, but a recent infant study suggests that the visual experience in daily life contribute to the emergence of upper visual field bias for faces.

In this study from Chuo University, Japan Women’s University, and Hokkaido University, infants aged 5 to 8 months were presented with two face images vertically or horizontally.

Researchers tested which face they first looked at, and found that infants aged over 7 months first looked at the top face more frequently while infants aged under 6 months equally looked at both faces. There was no difference in horizontal meridian regardless of ages.

This result suggests that the upper visual field bias for faces emerges around 7 months.

This bias is specific to faces: the infants were also presented with images of houses, but no bias was observed. This indicates that is the face is important factor inducing the visual field bias.

Furthermore, infants aged over 7 months preferentially memorized the top face even when they spent an equal amount of time viewing two face images.

These results suggest that there is a developmental change in the upper visual field bias for faces between the ages of 6 and 7 months, implying that experience with faces in daily life is related to the emergence of upper visual field bias for faces.

This drawing shows a baby looking at a face and a baby looking at a picture of a house
Infants showed the strong visual bias to the top face, but not in horizontal line. Credit: Chuo University, LAIMAN

“Throughout the development, what infants see in daily life changes. The experience with the spatial relationship between the face and body (that the face is attached to the body) is accumulated during the development. We assume that the proportion of viewing face and body relationship leads to the upper visual field bias for faces,” said Shuma Tsurumi from Chuo University.

“Interestingly, we also found that infants prioritize to remember the top face,” said Jun Kawahara from Hokkaido University.

“This bias could be a basis for our indispensable drive to find people to communicate and interact with others.”

This is a joint release by Chuo University and Hokkaido University.

Funding: The study, published in Developmental Science, was supported by a Grant-in-Aid from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) Fellows (19J21422), a Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research on Innovative Areas, ‘‘Construction of the Face–Body Studies in Transcultural Conditions” (17H06343), from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT), and a Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (B) from the JSPS (19H01774).

About this neurodevelopment and visual neuroscience research news

Author: Yoshi Noguchi
Source: Chuo University
Contact: Yoshi Noguchi – Chuo University
Image: The image is credited to Chuo University, LAIMAN

Original Research: Closed access.
Development of upper visual field bias for faces in infants” by Shuma Tsurumi et al. Developmental Science


Development of upper visual field bias for faces in infants

The spatial location of the face and body seen in daily life influences human perception and recognition. This contextual effect of spatial locations suggests that daily experience affects how humans visually process the face and body. However, it remains unclear whether this effect is caused by experience, or innate neural pathways.

To address this issue, we examined the development of visual field asymmetry for face processing, in which faces in the upper visual field were processed preferentially compared to the lower visual field. We found that a developmental change occurred between 6 and 7 months.

Older infants aged 7–8 months showed bias toward faces in the upper visual field, similar to adults, but younger infants of 5–6 months showed no such visual field bias. Furthermore, older infants preferentially memorized faces in the upper visual field, rather than in the lower visual field.

These results suggest that visual field asymmetry is acquired through development, and might be caused by the learning of spatial location in daily experience.

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