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Research Project: Impact of Diet on Intestinal Microbiota, Gut Health and Immune Function

Location: Immunity and Disease Prevention Research

Title: Examining infants visual paired comparison performance in the US and rural Malawi

item BECKNER, AARON - University Of California, Davis
item ARNOLD, CHARLES - University Of California, Davis
item BRAGG, MEGAN - University Of California, Davis
item Caswell, Bess
item CHEN, ZHIJUN - University Of California, Davis
item COX, KATHERINE - University Of California, Davis
item DEBOLT, MICHAELA - University Of California, Davis
item GEORGE, MATTHEWS - Kamuzu Central Hospital
item MALETA, KENNETH - Kamuzu Central Hospital
item STEWART, CHRISTINE - University Of California, Davis
item OAKES, LISA - University Of California, Davis
item PRADO, ELIZABETH - University Of California, Davis

Submitted to: Developmental Science
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 7/30/2023
Publication Date: 8/31/2023
Citation: Beckner, A., Arnold, C.D., Bragg, M.G., Caswell, B.L., Chen, Z., Cox, K., Debolt, M.C., George, M., Maleta, K., Stewart, C.P., Oakes, L.M., Prado, E.L. 2023. Examining infants visual paired comparison performance in the US and rural Malawi . Developmental Science. 2023/e13439.

Interpretive Summary: Tests of the various facets of infant cognitive development are used to study and address factors that may impair such development, such as premature birth, malnutrition, exposure to toxins or developmental conditions. One test of visual learning and memory tracks where infants look and for how long in order to assess how infants are learning and whether they remember things they have seen before. Infants spend more time looking at objects or images they don’t remember or that are more complex. We used the same test of visual learning to evaluate 6- to 9-month-old infants in California and in Malawi. When we showed infants two side-by-side pictures of people's faces, both the Californian and Malawian infants spent more total time looking at the face they hadn't seen before than a face they had been shown about 30 seconds earlier. This shows that children in both countries had a similar pattern of novelty preference -- a tendency to look more at new things – indicating similar ability to remember a previously shown face. However, the infants in California looked back and forth between a familiar face and a new face more quickly than the infants in Malawi. In Malawi, the infants who showed greater novelty preference tended to take longer looks at the new face, switching back and forth between the two faces less frequently. Based on previous research done predominantly in high-income countries, it has been assumed that looking back and forth quickly between a new image and a familiar image showed more efficient learning. That the Malawian children showed similar novelty preference to the Californian children but a different pattern of looking between new and familiar faces suggests that context shapes infants’ learning strategies. Because infants may adopt a range of effective strategies to achieve visual learning and memory development, assessments of infant cognitive performance should be evaluated in multiple populations.

Technical Abstract: Measures of attention and memory were evaluated in 6- to 9-month-old infants from two diverse contexts. One sample consisted of African infants residing in rural Malawi (N = 251, 128 girls). The other sample included both White and Non-White North American infants residing in suburban California (N = 48, 24 girls). Infants were tested in an eye-tracking version of the visual paired comparison procedure and were shown racially familiar faces. Both groups of infants showed significant novelty preference scores, indicating infants encoded and subsequently showed visual recognition memory for the familiarized faces. However, the association between measures of attention and memory differed in the two groups, suggesting they adopted different strategies during learning.