Publications of Blasi, A.

Early cortical specialization for face-to-face communication in human infants

This study examined the brain bases of early human social cognitive abilities. Specifically, we investigated whether cortical regions implicated in adults' perception of facial communication signals are functionally active in early human development. Four-month-old infants watched two kinds of dynamic scenarios in which a face either established mutual gaze or averted its gaze, both of which were followed by an eyebrow raise with accompanying smile. Haemodynamic responses were measured by near-infrared spectroscopy, permitting spatial localization of brain activation (experiment 1), and gamma-band oscillatory brain activity was analysed from electroencephalography to provide temporal information about the underlying cortical processes (experiment 2). The results revealed that perceiving facial communication signals activates areas in the infant temporal and prefrontal cortex that correspond to the brain regions implicated in these processes in adults. In addition, mutual gaze itself, and the eyebrow raise with accompanying smile in the context of mutual gaze, produce similar cortical activations. This pattern of results suggests an early specialization of the cortical network involved in the perception of facial communication cues, which is essential for infants' interactions with, and learning from, others.

Investigation of depth dependent changes in cerebral haemodynamics during face perception in infants

Near-infrared spectroscopy has been used to record oxygenation changes in the visual cortex of 4 month old infants. Our in-house topography system, with 30 channels and 3 different source–detector separations, recorded changes in the concentration of oxy-, deoxy- and total haemoglobin (HbO2, HHb and HbT) in response to visual stimuli (face, scrambled visual noise and cartoons as rest). The aim of this work was to demonstrate the capability of the system to spatially localize functional activation and study the possibility of depth discrimination in the haemodynamic response. The group data show both face stimulation and visual noise stimulation induced significant increases in HbO2 from rest, but the increase in HbO2 with face stimulation was not significantly different from that seen with visual noise stimulation. The face stimuli induced increases in HbO2 were spread across a greater area across all depths than visual noise induced changes. In results from a single subject there was a significant increase of HbO2 in the inferior area of the visual cortex in response to both types of stimuli, and a larger number of channels (source–detector pairs) showed HbO2 increase to face stimuli, especially at the greatest depth. Activation maps were obtained using 3D reconstruction methods on multi source–detector separation optical topography data.