Do Preterm Infants Perceive Temporal Synchrony? An Analysis with the Eye-Tracking System

in Timing & Time Perception
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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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  • Experimental design: synchronized and asynchronized videos. In the synchronized video, the sound was associated with the bounce of the ball at the bottom of the screen; in the asynchronized video, the sound was delayed by 450 ms after the ball reached the bottom of the screen.

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  • Ball on the screen. The different areas of interest (AOIs) are displayed: (a) top; (b) middle top; (c) middle; (d) middle bottom; (e) bottom; (f) course of the ball; and (g) screen.

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  • Mean duration of looking during the first three trials of the habituation phase (a, b, c) and the last three trials of the habituation phase (x, y, z) as a function of infant group: Term, LBW (infants born between 34 and 36 GA) and VLBW (infants born between 31 and 33 GA).

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  • Mean looking time in seconds of Term, LBW and VLBW infants during the last habituation phase trial, the first test trial (temporal asynchrony) and the first familiar test trial. LBW = infants born between 34 and 36 GA weeks; VLBW = infants born between 31 and 33 GA weeks.

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  • Mean looking time (s) on the ball course of Term (FT), LBW and VLBW infants during test trials (synch = synchronized trial; asynch = asynchronized trial).

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  • Illustration of visual exploration of the screen during the test phase for full-term infants and VLBW preterm infants. The brighter the area, the more time the infants spent looking at it.

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  • Total looking time (s) of Term, LBW and VLBW preterm infants on the different AOIs (Areas of Interest): bottom, middle bottom, middle, middle top and top.

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  • Total looking time (s) of Term, LBW and VLBW preterm infants on the middle bottom area of the screen during the last habituation phase trial (last habituation), the first asynchronized test trial (asynchro), and the first familiar test trial (synchro).

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