Emotional Interference of Baby and Adult Faces on Automatic Attention in Parenthood

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Protecting and nurturing offspring have been crucial to human evolution. For that reason, babies are very salient emotional stimuli to human beings. The current study compared the emotional interference of baby and adult faces on the automatic attention in 61 parents and nonparents (36 women, 20–35 years old; parents [n = 33] had a single child aged up to 2 years old). Images of distressed, happy, and neutral baby faces, and fearful, happy, and neutral adult faces, were used in a go/no-go paradigm to assess attentional bias. Attentional bias indexes were calculated for biases toward baby distress, baby versus adult faces, and adult fear. Parents showed a higher attentional bias toward baby versus adult faces (M = 17.62, SD = 50.52) than nonparents (M = −8.52, SD = 32.39), F(1) = 5.39, p = .024, η2 = 0.08. This bias was independent of the emotion expressions in the face stimuli. This study demonstrates that parental status influences attentional bias toward baby faces in men and women, and contributes further to the literature that previously focused mainly on women.

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