The processing of infant faces may be somewhat distinct from that of adult faces. Indeed, recent neuroimaging studies have provided evidence of an early, “baby-specific” neural response whereby infant faces are perceived more rapidly than adult faces. Using event-related potentials, the present study aimed to determine whether the preferential response to infant faces is present at both early and late stages of face processing, and to investigate the effects of aesthetic appearance on the processing of adult and infant faces by directly manipulating the perceived attractiveness or cuteness within a given face identity. Here, we find evidence for enhanced processing of infant faces, relative to adult faces, at both early (N170, P2) and late (LPC) stages of face processing. We also find that the aesthetic appearance of both infant and adult faces modulates early neural responses, with enhanced responses to less attractive/cute faces as compared to more attractive/cute faces. Overall, our results provide additional evidence for a preferential response to infant faces at early stages of processing, and provide new evidence that this preferential response occurs at later stages of face processing as well, independent of the aesthetic quality of the face or observer sex.
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