Effects of multimodal synchrony on infant attention and heart rate during events with social and nonsocial stimuli

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Attention is a state of readiness or alertness, associated with behavioral and psychophysiological responses, that facilitates learning and memory. Multisensory and dynamic events have been shown to elicit more attention and produce greater sustained attention in infants than auditory or visual events alone. Such redundant and often temporally synchronous information guides selectivity and facilitates perception, learning, and memory of properties of events specified by redundancy. In addition, events involving faces or other social stimuli provide an extraordinary amount of redundant information that attracts and sustains attention. In the current study, 4- and 8-month-old infants were shown 2-min multimodal videos featuring social or nonsocial stimuli to determine the relative roles of synchrony and stimulus category in inducing attention. Behavioral measures included average looking time and peak look duration, and convergent measurement of heart rate (HR) allowed for the calculation of HR-defined phases of attention: Orienting (OR), sustained attention (SA), and attention termination (AT). The synchronous condition produced an earlier onset of SA (less time in OR) and a deeper state of SA than the asynchronous condition. Social stimuli attracted and held attention (longer duration of peak looks and lower HR than nonsocial stimuli). Effects of synchrony and the social nature of stimuli were additive, suggesting independence of their influence on attention. These findings are the first to demonstrate different HR-defined phases of attention as a function of intersensory redundancy, suggesting greater salience and deeper processing of naturalistic synchronous audiovisual events compared with asynchronous ones.



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