Mechanisms of reflexive social attention

In her recent research, Jelena Ristic has shown that young children and adults will automatically shift attention to the direction of another person’s gaze. Gaze following behavior emerges shortly after birth, when babies start to follow their parents’ faces and eyes as a cue to interesting events in their surroundings. Consequently, gaze following has been tied to developmental milestones such as language acquisition and social cognitive development. In contrast to healthy children, children affected by social disorders, like autism, show little interest in the human face and often avoid eye contact. Jelena’s current research with healthy children will help identify how developmental milestones are reached and what parts of the brain are responsible for processing of social stimuli. This knowledge may offer a better understanding of human development in general as well as help identify the possible causes of pervasive social disorders such as autism.