Portable EEG-based screening of social predispositions in newborns


Predispositions to preferentially orient towards cues associated with social partners, such as face-like stimuli or biological and animate motion, appear to guide human social behavior from the onset of life and are typically impaired in children with autism-spectrum disorders (ASD). An early detector of social predispositions and their impairment in newborns might provide a valuable biomarker for ASD, an indicator of utmost relevance since infants with ASD greatly benefit from early behavioral intervention. This proposal builds on a study performed within my ERC grant in which, by designing an innovative oscillatory visual presentation of face-like patterns and perceptually equivalent controls, we identified an EEG-based index of face processing, present in each newborn tested and obtainable with less than 2 minutes of newborn’s visual attention. However, recording newborn’s EEG is currently possible only in laboratory settings, as no fully portable EEG system adapted for newborns exists in the market. The goal of this proposal is to design a portable, wireless EEG-based device that allows easy, rapid and automatic testing of face processing in newborns in any context, including their homes. This device is ground-breaking because it will combine the efficacy of our innovative experimental paradigm tailored to newborn’s restricted visual attention with a portable, low-power, wireless EEG device based on dry electrodes and an automatic algorithm that will extract on-line the EEG-based index of face processing. Its realization will enable the development of an early, objective and easy-to-test EEG-based biomarker on newborns at risk, potentially opening the way to large-scale screening protocols. Given the flexibility of the paradigm with respect to the content of the visual stimulation, this method might be used for research purposes to explore the neural bases of other perceptual and cognitive functions in newborns.

Project details

Unibo Team Leader: Luca Benini

Unibo involved Department/s:
Dipartimento di Ingegneria dell'Energia Elettrica e dell'Informazione "Guglielmo Marconi"

Università Studi Trento(Italy)

Other Participants:
ALMA MATER STUDIORUM - Università di Bologna (Italy)
Fondazione Bruno Kessler (Italy)

Total Eu Contribution: Euro (EUR) 149.945,00
Project Duration in months: 18
Start Date: 01/11/2019
End Date: 30/04/2021

Cordis webpage

Good health and well-being This project contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.

UE flag This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 842243