Publications of Handl, Andrea

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.

Processing Faces in Dyadic and Triadic Contexts

In a series of four experiments we assessed whether functional properties of the human face, such as signaling an object through eye gaze, influence face processing in 3- and 4-month-old infants. Infants viewed canonical and scrambled faces. We found that 4- but not 3-month-old infants' ERP showed an enhanced face-sensitive N170 component for the scrambled stimulus. Furthermore, when canonical and scrambled faces were gazing toward an object, 4-month-olds displayed an enhanced Negative central (Nc) component, related to attentional processes, for the scrambled face. Three-month-olds did not display any of these effects. These results point to important transition in the first months of infancy and show that triadic cues influence the processing of the human face.

Looking at eye gaze processing and its neural correlates in infancy-implications for social development and autism spectrum disorder

The importance of eye gaze as a means of communication is indisputable. However, there is debate about whether there is a dedicated neural module, which functions as an eye gaze detector and when infants are able to use eye gaze cues in a referential way. The application of neuroscience methodologies to developmental psychology has provided new insights into early social cognitive development. This review integrates findings on the development of eye gaze processing with research on the neural mechanisms underlying infant and adult social cognition. This research shows how a cognitive neuroscience approach can improve our understanding of social development and autism spectrum disorder.