Publications of Friederici, Angela D

Influence of Eye Gaze on Spoken Word Processing: An ERP Study With Infants

Eye gaze is an important communicative signal, both as mutual eye contact and as referential gaze to objects. To examine whether attention to speech versus nonspeech stimuli in 4- to 5-month-olds (n = 15) varies as a function of eye gaze, event-related brain potentials were used. Faces with mutual or averted gaze were presented in combination with forward- or backward-spoken words. Infants rapidly processed gaze and spoken words in combination. A late Slow Wave suggests an interaction of the 2 factors, separating backward-spoken word + direct gaze from all other conditions. An additional experiment (n = 15) extended the results to referential gaze. The current findings suggest that interactions between visual and auditory cues are present early in infancy.

The detection of communicative signals directed at the self in infant prefrontal cortex

A precondition for successful communication between people is the detection of signals indicating the intention to communicate, such as eye contact or calling a person's name. In adults, establishing communication by eye contact or calling a person's name results in overlapping activity in right prefrontal cortex, suggesting that, regardless of modality, the intention to communicate is detected by the same brain region. We measured prefrontal cortex responses in 5-month-olds using near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) to examine the neural basis of detecting communicative signals across modalities in early development. Infants watched human faces that either signaled eye contact or directed their gaze away from the infant, and they also listened to voices that addressed them with their own name or another name. The results revealed that infants recruit adjacent but non-overlapping regions in the left dorsal prefrontal cortex when they process eye contact and own name. Moreover, infants that responded sensitively to eye contact in the one prefrontal region were also more likely to respond sensitively to their own name in the adjacent prefrontal region as revealed in a correlation analysis, suggesting that responding to communicative signals in these two regions might be functionally related. These NIRS results suggest that infants selectively process and attend to communicative signals directed at them. However, unlike adults, infants do not seem to recruit a common prefrontal region when processing communicative signals of different modalities. The implications of these findings for our understanding of infants' developing communicative abilities are discussed.

"Did You Call Me?'' 5-Month-Old Infants Own Name Guides Their Attention

An infant's own name is a unique social cue. Infants are sensitive to their own name by 4 months of age, but whether they use their names as a social cue is unknown. Electroencephalogram (EEG) was measured as infants heard their own name or stranger's names and while looking at novel objects. Event related brain potentials (ERPs) in response to names revealed that infants differentiate their own name from stranger names from the first phoneme. The amplitude of the ERPs to objects indicated that infants attended more to objects after hearing their own names compared to another name. Thus, by 5 months of age infants not only detect their name, but also use it as a social cue to guide their attention to events and objects in the world.