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Volume 22 Issue 5 (September 2019), Pages

Early development of visual attention in infants in rural Malawi

Abstract Eye tracking research has shown that infants develop a repertoire of attentional capacities during the first year. The majority of studies examining the early development of attention comes from Western, high‐resource countries. We examined visual attention in a heterogeneous sample of infants in rural Malawi (N = 312–376, depending on analysis). Infants were assessed with eye‐tracking‐based tests that targeted visual orienting, anticipatory looking, and attention to faces at 7 and 9 months. Consistent with prior research, infants exhibited active visual search for salient visual targets, anticipatory saccades to predictable events, and a robust attentional bias for happy and fearful faces. Individual variations in these processes had low to moderate odd‐even split‐half and test‐retest reliability. There were no consistent associations between attention measures and gestational age, nutritional status, or characteristics of the rearing environment (i.e., maternal cognition, psychosocial well‐being, socioeconomic status, and care practices). The results replicate infants’ early attentional biases in a large, unique sample, and suggest that some of these biases (e.g., bias for faces) are pronounced in low‐resource settings. The results provided no evidence that the initial manifestation of infants’ attentional capacities is associated with risk factors that are common in low‐resource environments.

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