Refereed journal article or data article (A1)

Maternal stress and development of infant attention to threat-related facial expressions

List of Authors: Reilly EB, Dickerson KL, Pierce LJ, Leppanen J, Valdes V, Gharib A, Thompson BL, Schlueter LJ, Levitt P, Nelson CA

Publisher: Wiley

Publication year: 2022

Journal: Developmental Psychobiology


Journal acronym: DEV PSYCHOBIOL

Volume number: 64

Issue number: 7

Number of pages: 12

ISSN: 0012-1630

eISSN: 1098-2302



Attentional biases to threat-related stimuli, such as fearful and angry facial expressions, are important to survival and emerge early in development. Infants demonstrate an attentional bias to fearful facial expressions by 5-7 months of age and an attentional bias toward anger by 3 years of age that are modulated by experiential factors. In a longitudinal study of 87 mother-infant dyads from families predominantly experiencing low income, we examined whether maternal stress and depressive symptoms were associated with trajectories of attentional biases to threat, assessed during an attention disengagement eye-tracking task when infants were 6-, 9-, and 12-month old. By 9 months, infants demonstrated a generalized bias toward threat (both fearful and angry facial expressions). Maternal perceived stress was associated with the trajectory of the bias toward angry facial expressions between 6 and 12 months. Specifically, infants of mothers with higher perceived stress exhibited a greater bias toward angry facial expressions at 6 months that decreased across the next 6 months, compared to infants of mothers with lower perceived stress who displayed an increased bias to angry facial expressions over this age range. Maternal depressive symptoms and stressful life events were not associated with trajectories of infant attentional bias to anger or fear. These findings highlight the role of maternal perceptions of stress in shaping developmental trajectories of threat-alerting systems.

Last updated on 2022-09-11 at 12:59