Characterization of performance on an automated visual recognition memory task in 7.5-month-old infants

Kelsey L.C. Dzwilewski, Francheska M. Merced-Nieves, Andrea Aguiar, Susan A. Korrick, Susan L. Schantz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Infant looking behaviors measured during visual assessment paradigms may be more reliable predictors of long-term cognitive outcomes than standard measures such as the Bayley Scales of Infant Development typically used in environmental epidemiology. Infrared eye tracking technology offers an innovative approach to automate collection and processing of looking behavior data, making it possible to efficiently assess large numbers of infants. The goals of this study were to characterize infant looking behavior measures including side preference, fixation duration, and novelty preference using eye tracking and an automated version of an established visual recognition memory paradigm that includes both human faces and geometric figures as stimuli. An ancillary goal was to assess the feasibility of obtaining a precise measure of looking to the eye region of faces from the eye-tracking data. In this study, 309 7.5-month-old infants from a prospective birth cohort were assessed using a visual recognition memory (VRM) paradigm. Infrared eye tracking was used to record looking time as infants were shown nine blocks of trials with a pair of identical faces or shapes followed by two trials in which the familiar stimulus was paired with a novel one. Infants were assessed in one of four conditions: in conditions A and B, stimulus set 1 were the familiar stimuli and set 2 were novel; in conditions C and D, set 2 were familiar and set 1 novel. The novel stimuli were presented on the right first in conditions A and C and on the left first in conditions B and D. We observed a significant right side preference, which has not been reported before (57% of looking time spent looking at right side stimulus, p-value < 0.0001). Infants showed a preference for the novel stimuli similar to that published in prior studies (57–60% of looking time spent looking at the novel stimulus, p-value < 0.0001), as well as average fixation durations similar to previous studies. Infants also showed a strong preference for the eyes versus the rest of the face (p-value < 0.0001). Novelty preference was significantly higher when set 2 stimuli were novel (p-value < 0.0001), suggesting a preference among infants for set 2 stimuli compared to set 1 stimuli. The pattern of novelty preference across trials was significantly different between infants who saw the novel stimuli on the left first and those who saw them on the right first (p-value < 0.0001) but the overall mean novelty preference was not significantly different between these groups. There were also significant differences in average fixation duration and eyes preference measures across stimuli (p-values < 0.05). These findings show that VRM assessment can be automated for use in large-scale epidemiological studies using infrared eye tracking with looking behavior measure results similar to those obtained with standard non-automated methods, and that side and stimulus preferences are important modifiers of looking behavior that are critical to consider in this type of assessment.

Original languageEnglish
Article number106904
JournalNeurotoxicology and Teratology
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Attention
  • Eye tracking
  • Infant cognition
  • Information processing speed
  • Visual recognition memory


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