Recurrent loops in the visual cortex play a critical role in visual perception, which is likely not mediated by purely feed-forward pathways. However, the development of recurrent loops is poorly understood. The role of recurrent processing has been studied using visual backward masking, a perceptual phenomenon in which a visual stimulus is rendered invisible by a following mask, possibly because of the disruption of recurrent processing.
Anatomical studies have reported that recurrent pathways are immature in early infancy. This raises the possibility that younger infants process visual information mainly in a feed-forward manner, and thus, they might be able to perceive visual stimuli that adults cannot see because of backward masking. Here, we show that infants under 7 mo of age are immune to visual backward masking and that masked stimuli remain visible to younger infants while older infants cannot perceive them.
These results suggest that recurrent processing is immature in infants under 7 mo and that they are able to perceive objects even without recurrent processing. Our findings indicate that the algorithm for visual perception drastically changes in the second half of the first year of life.