How an infant's active response to structured experience supports perceptual-cognitive development

Sori Baek, Sagi Jaffe-Dax, Lauren L. Emberson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Previous research on perceptual and cognitive development has predominantly focused on infants' passive response to experience. For example, if infants are exposed to acoustic patterns in the background while they are engaged in another activity, what are they able to learn? However, recent work in this area has revealed that even very young infants are also capable of active perceptual and cognitive responses to experience. Specifically, recent neuroimaging work showed that infants' perceptual systems predict upcoming sensory events and that learning to predict new events rapidly modulates the responses of their perceptual systems. In addition, there is new evidence that young infants have access to endogenous attention and their prediction and attention are rapidly and robustly modified through learning about patterns in the environment. In this chapter, we present a synthesis of the existing research on the impact of infants' active responses to experience and argue that this active engagement importantly supports infants' perceptual-cognitive development. To this end, we first define what a mechanism of active engagement is and examine how learning, selective attention, and prediction can be considered active mechanisms. Then, we argue that these active mechanisms become engaged in response to higher-order environmental structures, such as temporal, spatial, and relational patterns, and review both behavioral and neural evidence of infants' active responses to these structures or patterns. Finally, we discuss how this active engagement in infancy may give rise to the emergence of specialized perceptual-cognitive systems and highlight directions for future research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)167-186
Number of pages20
JournalProgress in Brain Research
StatePublished - 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neuroscience(all)


  • Active processing
  • Attention
  • Cognitive development
  • EEG
  • fNIRS
  • Infancy
  • Learning
  • Perceptual development
  • Prediction
  • Specialization

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