Summary: Babies 6-9 months old can form memories of masked faces and recognize faces when the mask is removed.
Source: U.C. Davis
Babies learn by looking at human faces, leading many parents and childhood experts to worry about possible developmental harm from widespread face masking during the pandemic.
A new study by researchers at the University of California, Davis eases those concerns, finding that babies 6 to 9 months old can form memories of masked faces and recognize those faces when they are unmasked.
Michaela DeBolt, a doctoral candidate in cognitive psychology, and Lisa Oakes, a professor in the Department of Psychology and the Center for Mind and Brain, used eye tracking to study how masks influence infants’ facial recognition.
In the study, 58 babies, each sitting on a parent’s lap or in a high chair, saw pairs of masked and unmasked women’s faces on a computer screen, while cameras recorded where they looked . Because babies linger longer on unfamiliar images, researchers were able to determine which faces they recognized, DeBolt said.
The findings appear in an article published in the January/February special issue of the journal Childhoodwhich focused on the impact of COVID-19 on infant development.
The testing took place at the Oakes Child Cognition Lab at the Center for Mind and Brain in Davis, Calif., from late December 2021 through late March 2022, during a statewide mask mandate and the arrival of the omicron variant of the coronavirus.
“When babies learned about a masked face, and then they saw that face unmasked again, they recognized it,” DeBolt said.
However, when the order was reversed, the infants did not show strong recognition of masked faces that they first saw unmasked. DeBolt said it was similar to his own experience of not instantly recognizing a friend who was wearing a face mask.
Learning faces is central to how babies learn to talk, perceive emotions, develop relationships with their caregivers and explore their surroundings, Oakes said. “So people were very concerned about face masks and the effect they would have on how infants learn about human faces.”
Oakes, an expert in early childhood cognitive development, said the study showed babies are remarkably adaptable. “I think that should be very reassuring for parents in general,” she said. “Babies all over the world are developing and thriving.
“There are so many variations in the daily experience of babies,” she added. “As long as they are well cared for and fed and given love and attention, they thrive. We can get into a mode where we think the way we do things is the best way to do things and anything different is going to be a problem. And this is clearly not the case. »
About this neurodevelopment research news
Author: Kathleen Holder
Source: U.C. Davis
Contact: Kathleen Holder – UC Davis
Picture: Image is in public domain
Original research: Access closed.
“The Impact of Face Masks on Infant Learning Faces: An Eye Tracking Study” by Michaela C. DeBolt et al. Childhood
The impact of face masks on infants’ learning of faces: an eye-tracking study
This pre-recorded study examined how face masks influenced facial memory in a North American sample of 6- to 9-month-old infants (NOT = 58) born during the COVID-19 pandemic. The infants’ memory was tested using a standard visual pairwise comparison (VPC) task.
We crossed whether the faces were masked or not during familiarization and testing, resulting in four types of trials (masked-familiarization/masked-test, unmasked-familiarization/masked-test, masked-familiarization/unmasked-test and unmasked-familiarization/unmasked-test). test).
Infants showed memory for faces if the faces were unmasked on the test, whether or not the face was masked during familiarization. However, the infants did not show strong evidence of memory when the test faces were obscured, regardless of the familiarization condition.
Additionally, infants’ bias for looking at the upper (eye) region was greater for masked faces than for unmasked faces, although this difference was not related to memory performance.
In summary, although the presence of face masks appears to influence infants’ processing and memory of faces, they can form memories of masked faces and recognize these familiar faces even when they are not masked.