Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
How specialized is the infant brain for perceiving the facial and manual movements displayed by others? Although there is evidence for a network of regions that process biological motion in adults—including individuated responses to the perception of differing facial and manual movements—how this cortical specialization develops remains unknown. We used functional near-infrared spectroscopy [Lloyd-Fox, S., Blasi, A., & Elwell, C. Illuminating the developing brain: The past, present and future of functional near-infrared spectroscopy. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 34, 269–284, 2010] to investigate the ability of 5-month-old infants to process differing biological movements. Infants watched videos of adult actors moving their hands, their mouth, or their eyes, all in contrast to nonbiological mechanical movements, while hemodynamic responses were recorded over the their frontal and temporal cortices. We observed different regions of the frontal and temporal cortex that responded to these biological movements and different patterns of cortical activation according to the type of movement watched. From an early age, our brains selectively respond to biologically relevant movements, and further, selective patterns of regional specification to different cues occur within what may correspond to a developing “social brain” network. These findings illuminate hitherto undocumented maps of selective cortical activation to biological motion processing in the early postnatal development of the human brain.