Visual scanning of a talking face in preterm and full-term infants.

Preterm birth (< 37 gestational weeks) is associated with long-term risks for health and neurodevelopment, but recently, studies have also started exploring how preterm birth affects early language development in the 1st year of life. Because the timing and quality of auditory and visual input is very different for preterm versus full-term infants, audiovisual speech perception in early development may be particularly sensitive to preterm birth. We tested extremely preterm to late preterm infants at 8 months postnatal age (28 to 36 weeks of gestation), as well as 2 full-term comparison groups with similar postnatal (8 months) and maturational (6 months) ages, on visual scanning of a video showing a French–English bilingual woman speaking in the infants' native language (French) and a nonnative language (English). Preterm infants showed similar scanning patterns for both languages, failing to differentiate between native and nonnative languages in their looking, unlike both groups of full-term infants, who looked more to the eyes than the mouth for the native language compared with the nonnative language. No clear relationship between scanning patterns and degree of prematurity was found. These findings are the first to show that audiovisual speech perception is affected in even later-born preterm infants, thus identifying a particularly sensitive deficit in early speech processing. Further research will need to investigate how preterms' special vulnerability in audiovisual speech processing may contribute to the other language difficulties found in these populations. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)