The aim of this study was to investigate auditory–visual temporal asynchrony in preterm infants using a habituation procedure coupled with an eye-tracking system in order to examine visual behavior accurately and determine specific visual areas of interest. Sixteen term infants, twelve low-risk near-term (LBW) preterm infants and eight Very Low Birth Weight (VLBW) preterm infants were tested at four months post term. Infants were habituated with an auditory–visual synchronic situation: a visual ball bounced back in synchrony with an auditory sound. In the test phase, an asynchronized situation and a synchronized situation were presented alternately three times. The results showed that VLBW infants spent more time looking at the target before being habituated compared to LBW preterm infants and full-term infants.
Specific areas of interest showed that VLBW infants spent less time on the target than LBW and full-term infants and had a more heterogeneous visual exploration. Nevertheless, VLBW infants had the same novelty reaction as the other infant groups. Moreover, the study of areas of interest revealed that whatever the age group, infants looked more at the area where the sound was produced during the asynchronized trial. This result suggests that infants perceive asynchrony. We suggest that VLBW preterm infants show the same ability to habituate and novelty recovery through an early learning experience due to earlier additional extra-uterine exposure.
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