Edinburgh Imaging

03 Aug 20. Featured Paper

Eye‐tracking for longitudinal assessment of social cognition in children born preterm.

Link to paper on The Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry



Bethan Dean, Lorna Ginnell, Victoria LedshamAthanasios TsanasEmma Telford, Sarah Sparrow, Sue Fletcher‐WatsonJames P. Boardman



Background & objectives: Preterm birth is associated with atypical social cognition in infancy, & cognitive impairment & social difficulties in childhood.

Little is known about the stability of social cognition through childhood, & its relationship with neurodevelopment.

We used eye‐tracking in preterm & term‐born infants to investigate social attentional preference in infancy & at 5 years, its relationship with neurodevelopment & the influence of socioeconomic deprivation.

Methods: A cohort of 81 preterm & 66 term infants with mean (range) gestational age at birth 28+5 (23+2–33+0) & 40+0 (37+0–42+1) respectively, completed eye‐tracking at 7–9 months, with a subset re‐assessed at 5 years.

Three free‐viewing social tasks of increasing stimulus complexity were presented, & a social preference score was derived from looking time to socially informative areas.

Socioeconomic data & the Mullen Scales of Early Learning at 5 years were collected.

Results: Preterm children had lower social preference scores at 7–9 months compared with term‐born controls.

Term‐born children’s scores were stable between time points, whereas preterm children showed a significant increase, reaching equivalent scores by 5 years.

Low gestational age & socioeconomic deprivation were associated with reduced social preference scores at  7–9 months.

At 5 years, preterm infants had lower Early Learning Composite scores than controls, but this was not associated with social attentional preference in infancy or at 5 years.

Conclusions: Preterm children have reduced social attentional preference at 7–9 months compared with term‐born controls, but catch up by 5 years.

Infant social cognition is influenced by socioeconomic deprivation & gestational age.

Social cognition & neurodevelopment have different trajectories following preterm birth.


  • Development

  • Eye gaze

  • Prematurity

  • Social cognition



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Featured paper: Eye‐tracking for longitudinal assessment of social cognition in children born preterm. @JamesPeterBoar2 @MRC_CRH #Development #Prematurity