chapter  4
20 Pages

A Functional Analysis of Visual Fixation, Habituation, and Attention in Infancy: Gérard Malcuit and Andrée Pomerleau

Evidence of integrated cognitive activity in infants has been deduced from the ways they allocate their attention to specific aspects of the environment (Colombo & Mitchell, 1990). Attention has been described as a multifaceted phenomenon, probably involving more than one psychological process and more than one neural mechanism (Posner & Boies, 1971). The processes of attention are considered as accomplishing a two-fold function. First, they enhance and facilitate the intake of information contained in the stimulus that happens to catch the infant's attention at a particular moment. This information is then used to guide the infant's activity. This function coincides with the orienting response. Through a generalized system, including central, motor, and autonomic components, this "What is it?" response optimizes the reception of afferent input and its central processing (Graham & Clifton, 1966). Depending on the function of the event, action will follow. The second function of the attentional processes is that it permits the infant to selectively tum his or her perceptual apparatus toward the most salient stimuli (salient at this very moment, and under these prevalent circumstances) among the many events competing for attention. When certain stimuli are interpreted as having no (or no more) significance for the ongoing activity, or when their power to maintain attention becomes eroded, the infant may focus his or her receptors on other stimuli. In the normal ecology of the infant, these two functions-intake enhancing and selectivity-interact in a constant manner.