Publications of Fearon, R.M.P.

Action anticipation in human infants reveals assumptions about anteroposterior body-structure and action

Animal actions are almost universally constrained by the bilateral body-plan. For example, the direction of travel tends to be constrained by the orientation of the animal’s anteroposterior axis. Hence, an animal’s behaviour can reliably guide the identification of its front and back, and its orientation can reliably guide action prediction. We examine the hypothesis that the evolutionarily ancient relation between anteroposterior body-structure and behaviour guides our cognitive processing of agents and their actions. In a series of studies we demonstrate that, after limited exposure, human infants as young as 6 months of age spontaneously encode a novel agent as having a certain axial direction with respect to its actions, and rely on it when anticipating the agent’s further behaviour. We found that such encoding is restricted to objects exhibiting cues of agency, and does not depend on generalization from features of familiar animals. Our research offers a new tool for investigating the perception of animate agency and supports the proposal that the underlying cognitive mechanisms have been shaped by basic biological adaptations in humans.

Polymorphisms in dopamine system genes are associated with individual differences in attention in infancy

Knowledge about the functional status of the frontal cortex in infancy is limited. This study investigated the effects of polymorphisms in four dopamine system genes on performance in a task developed to assess such functioning, the Freeze-Frame task, at 9 months of age. Polymorphisms in the catechol-Omethyltransferase (COMT) and the dopamine D4 receptor (DRD4) genes are likely to impact directly on the functioning of the frontal cortex, whereas polymorphisms in the dopamine D2 receptor (DRD2) and dopamine transporter (DAT1) genes might influence frontal cortex functioning indirectly via strong frontostriatal connections. A significant effect of the COMT valine158methionine (Val158Met) polymorphism was found. Infants with the Met/Met genotype were significantly less distractible than infants with the Val/Val genotype in Freeze-Frame trials presenting an engaging central stimulus. In addition, there was an interaction with the DAT1 3 variable number of tandem repeats polymorphism; the COMT effect was present only in infants who did not have two copies of the DAT1 10-repeat allele. These findings indicate that dopaminergic polymorphisms affect selective aspects of attention as early as infancy and further validate the Freeze-Frame task as a frontal cortex task.

There must be more to development of mindreading and metacognition than passing false belief tasks

We argue that while it is a valuable contribution, Carruthers’ model may be too restrictive to elaborate our understanding of the development of mindreading and metacognition, or to enrich our knowledge of individual differences and psychopathology. To illustrate, we describe pertinent examples where there may be a critical interplay between primitive social-cognitive processes and emerging self-attributions.

Freeze-Frame: A new infant inhibition task and its relation to frontal cortex tasks during infancy and early childhood

The current study investigated a new, easily administered, visual inhibition task for infants termed the Freeze-Frame task. In the new task, 9-month-olds were encouraged to inhibit looks to peripheral distractors. This was done by briefly freezing a central animated stimulus when infants looked to the distractors. Half of the trials presented an engaging central stimulus, and the other half presented a repetitive central stimulus. Three measures of inhibitory function were derived from the task and compared with performance on a set of frontal cortex tasks administered at 9 and 24 months of age. As expected, infants' ability to learn to selectively inhibit looks to the distractors at 9 months predicted performance at 24 months. However, performance differences in the two Freeze-Frame trial types early in the experiment also turned out to be an important predictor. The results are discussed in terms of the validity of the Freeze-Frame task as an early measure of different components of inhibitory function. (C) 2007 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.