UEL Baby Dev Lab

Gaze onsets during naturalistic infant-caregiver interaction associate with ‘sender’ but not ‘receiver’ neural responses, and do not lead to changes in inter-brain synchrony

I. Marriott Haresign, E.A.M Phillips, M. Whitehorn, F. Lamagna, M. Eliano, L. Goupil, E.J.H. Jones, S.V. Wass 2022. bioRxiv

Temporal coordination during infant-caregiver social interaction is thought to be crucial for supporting early language acquisition and cognitive development. Despite a growing prevalence of theories suggesting that increased inter-brain synchrony associates with many key aspects of social interactions such as mutual gaze, little is known about how this arises during development. Here, we investigated the role of mutual gaze onsets as a potential driver of inter-brain synchrony. We extracted dual EEG activity around naturally occurring gaze onsets during infant-caregiver social interactions in N=55 dyads (mean age 12 months). We differentiated between two types of gaze onset, depending on each partner's role. 'Sender' gaze onsets were defined at a time when either the adult or the infant made a gaze shift towards their partner at a time when their partner was either already looking at them (mutual) or not looking at them (non-mutual). 'Receiver' gaze onsets were defined at a time when their partner made a gaze shift towards them at a time when either the adult or the infant was already looking at their partner (mutual) or not (non-mutual). Contrary to our hypothesis we found that, during a naturalistic interaction, both mutual and non-mutual gaze onsets were associated with changes in the sender, but not the receiver's brain activity and were not associated with increases in inter-brain synchrony above baseline. Further, we found that mutual, compared to non-mutual gaze onsets were not associated with increased inter-brain synchrony. Overall, our results suggest that the effects of mutual gaze are strongest at the intra-brain level, in the 'sender' but not the 'receiver' of the mutual gaze.

Speaker gaze increases information coupling between infant and adult brains

Leong, V., Byrne, E., Clackson, K., Gergieva, S., Lam, S., & Wass S. 2017. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

When infants and adults communicate, they exchange social signals of availability and communicative intention such as eye gaze. Previous research indicates that when communication is successful, close temporal dependencies arise between adult speakers’ and listeners’ neural activity. However, it is not known whether similar neural contingencies exist within adult–infant dyads. Here, we used dual-electroencephalography to assess whether direct gaze increases neural coupling between adults and infants during screen-based and live interactions. In experiment 1 (n = 17), infants viewed videos of an adult who was singing nursery rhymes with (i) direct gaze (looking forward), (ii) indirect gaze (head and eyes averted by 20°), or (iii) direct-oblique gaze (head averted but eyes orientated forward). In experiment 2 (n = 19), infants viewed the same adult in a live context, singing with direct or indirect gaze. Gaze-related changes in adult–infant neural network connectivity were measured using partial directed coherence. Across both experiments, the adult had a significant (Granger) causal influence on infants’ neural activity, which was stronger during direct and direct-oblique gaze relative to indirect gaze. During live interactions, infants also influenced the adult more during direct than indirect gaze. Further, infants vocalized more frequently during live direct gaze, and individual infants who vocalized longer also elicited stronger synchronization from the adult. These results demonstrate that direct gaze strengthens bidirectional adult–infant neural connectivity during communication. Thus, ostensive social signals could act to bring brains into mutual temporal alignment, creating a joint-networked state that is structured to facilitate information transfer during early communication and learning.