More than meets the eye: The neural development of emotion face processing during infancy

Paige Safyer, Brenda L. Volling, Neelima Wagley, Xiaosu Hu, James E. Swain, Maria M. Arredondo, Ioulia Kovelman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


This study explored the impact of infant temperament and maternal stress on the development of the infant medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) among sixteen 6-8-month-old infants. Functional Near Infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS) was used to measure activation of the infant mPFC in response to angry, happy, and sad faces. Infant temperament and dimensions of maternal stress were measured with the Infant Behavior Questionnaire and the Parenting Stress Index Respectively. Infants with high negative emotionality demonstrated increased mPFC activation in association with all emotion face conditions. Negative emotionality moderated the effect of total maternal stress on mPFC activation to angry and sad faces. Mother-infant dysfunctional interaction was related to increased mPFC activation associated with happy faces, supporting the “novelty hypothesis”, in which the mPFC responds more strongly to unique experiences. Therefore, this study provides additional evidence that infant temperament and the quality of the mother-infant relationship influence the development of the mPFC and how infants process emotions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number101430
JournalInfant Behavior and Development
StatePublished - May 2020


  • Infant
  • Infant brain development
  • Infant emotional development
  • Infant temperament
  • Maternal stress
  • Medial prefrontal cortex
  • Mother
  • Mother-infant relationship
  • fNIRS

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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