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Journal Article

Infants’ brain responses to pupillary changes in others are affected by race


Grossmann,  Tobias
Department of Psychology, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA, USA;
Department Neuropsychology, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Kelsey, C. M., Krol, K. M., Kret, M. E., & Grossmann, T. (2019). Infants’ brain responses to pupillary changes in others are affected by race. Scientific Reports, 9: 4317. doi:10.1038/s41598-019-40661-z.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0003-427E-6
Sensitive responding to eye cues plays a key role during human social interactions. Observed changes in pupillary size provide a range of socially-relevant information including cues regarding a person’s emotional and arousal states. Recently, infants have been found to mimic observed pupillary changes in others, instantiating a foundational mechanism for eye-based social communication. Among adults, perception of pupillary changes is affected by race. Here, we examined whether and how race impacts the neural processing of others’ pupillary changes in early ontogeny. We measured 9-month-old infants’ brain responses to dilating and constricting pupils in the context of viewing own-race and other-race eyes using functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS). Our results show that only when responding to own-race eyes, infants’ brains distinguished between changes in pupillary size. Specifically, infants showed enhanced responses in the right superior temporal cortex when observing own-race pupil dilation. Moreover, when processing other-race pupillary changes, infants recruited the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a brain region linked to cognitive control functions. These findings suggest that, early in development, the fundamental process of responding to pupillary changes is impacted by race and interracial interactions may afford greater cognitive control or effort. This critically informs our understanding of the early origins of responding to pupillary signals in others and further highlights the impact of race on the processing of social signals.