Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Cognitive Neuroscience


Jennifer Wagner

Subject Categories

Cognitive Neuroscience | Developmental Neuroscience


Faces provide an abundance of salient information, and within a few hours of being born, infants already show preferential attention to faces and face-like stimuli. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder consisting of social communication and interaction difficulties, and individuals with ASD show differences in the behavioral and neural processing of faces. Prospective studies with infants at high risk for ASD (HRA; by virtue of an older sibling with ASD) have begun to look at whether responses to faces could be an early marker of later ASD. Using functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), the current study measured oxygenated hemoglobin (oxyHb) levels in both the frontal and right lateral regions of the brain in 6- to 14- month-old HRA infants and low-risk control (LRC) infants (with no family history of ASD). Infants viewed videos of their mother and a stranger speaking with a neutral expression and then a happy expression. Results provided evidence that the right lateral region was more involved in face processing than frontal regions. However, there was minimal evidence of group-related effects on oxyHb responding during face processing. Future research would benefit from a larger sample size as well as incorporating ASD outcomes in order to ask whether fNIRS responses in infancy could provide a marker for later ASD.