Research highlight

Neuroscience: Baby brains "see" like adult brains

Nature Communications

January 11, 2017

Babies as young as four months old process faces and scenes in a similar way to how adults do, shows a study published in Nature Communications.

The visual cortex in adults is divided into areas that process everything we see, such as faces, objects, and scenes. However, it is unclear whether these distinct areas arise as a result of exposure to the environment, or whether they are present from a young age. Ben Deen and colleagues provide evidence that indicates the visual cortex of the brain is already adult-like, in terms of structural organization, within a few months after birth.

The authors gather functional magnetic resonance imaging data from nine infants (aged four to six months) that were shown various images while lying in the scanner. Their results show that infants’ visual cortex responded similarly to adults’ presented with similar stimuli, indicating that infants as young as four months have areas in the visual cortex that process specific visual categories, such as faces and scenes. In a follow-up experiment, the authors demonstrate that these results are not due to any features of the stimuli (e.g. colour, brightness).

Though the functional responses observed in infants’ brains were not as nuanced as those seen in adults, these results suggest that the large-scale organization of category preferences in visual cortex is already similar to that of adults after only four months of exposure to visual stimuli.

doi: 10.1038/ncomms13995

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