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Research Projects

Infant and Child Development

With the goal of underlying biological mechanisms, we study visual, cognitive and emotional development in infants/children.

Current projects include:

1) Visual Development in Typical Infants/Children.  These studies use perceptual and eye tracking methods to track development of different aspects of visual processing in infants and children. Topics include: color, motion, form, face, and object discrimination.

2) The Effects of Color on Mood and Emotions.  These studies look at what colors children prefer, as well as which colors evoke certain moods/emotions, like tranquility, engagement, positivity and creativity.  This is part of a larger project of Spacious-Minds, a company that designs daycare centers inspired by science.

 

 

Deaf Studies

We the goal of understanding the ways in which neural and perceptual processing are altered by early sensory input, we work with deaf people and hearing children of deaf adults (CODAs).  Deaf people differ from hearing people in two important ways: 1) deaf people lack auditory input and/or 2) deaf people use a visual-manual language (American Sign Language).  This work is in collaboration with Rain Bosworth Ph.D. and Sarah Tyler Ph.D., and funded by NSF and NIH.

Current projects include:

1) Development in Deaf Individuals.  These studies use perceptual and eye tracking methods to investigate visual-cognitive abilities in deaf people, starting with infants who are born deaf.

2) The Effects of Cochlear Implants.  With cochlear implants on the rise, we study how receiving a cochlear implant alters the course of visual and auditory development.

3) The Effects of Learning Sign Language.  In hearing people who are late learners of ASL, we are interested in how learning a visual language affects one’s awareness of his/her body, something referred to as “interoception” (see more about Interoception, below).

If you are interested in this deaf research, please email: meplab@ucsd.edu

 

 

Autism

We have been investigating the origins of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), by conducting visual, physiological, genetic and behavioral studies in infants who are at risk for ASD and individuals with ASD.

Current projects include:

1) Sleep Patterns in High-Risk Infants.  High-Risk infants are those with an older sibling diagnosed with ASD, which puts them at an elevated risk of developing ASD (~19%) because there is a genetic component to ASD.   We track development in these infants with the hope of finding early markers for developing the disorder. In collaboration with Liz Harrison, Ph.D., and Gena Glickman, Ph.D., we are currently funded by the DOD to study sleep and hormonal (melatonin/cortisol) patterns in these infants.

2) Face and Emotional Processing in Individuals with ASD and Typical Individuals with ASD CharacteristicsWe study visual and emotional processing in individuals with ASD, as well as in the typical population because even “typical” individuals vary in the degree to which they experience ASD-like characteristics (i.e., “everyone is on the spectrum!”).  We are currently studying empathy and the ability to discriminate different facial expressions of emotion.

 

 

Mindfulness/Mental Well-Being

In the last few years, the Dobkins laboratory has been focused on novel mindfulness-based approaches for enhancing mental well-being. This new line of work is motivated by a desire to address the continuing elevation of stress and depression in society (especially in young people).  Some of these studies are also being conducted in Hong Kong in collaboration with Winnie Mak, Ph.D. at the Chinese University of Kong Hong, which allows for a cross-cultural comparison.

Using questionnaire data, heart rate responses and cortisol samples collected pre- vs. post-intervention, current projects include testing the effectiveness of:
Principles of Clarity.   This is an experiential (and playful) workshop created and led by Dr. Dobkins, which has been taught in the USA and Asia. The goal is to help people break free from the limiting concepts and thought patterns that lead to psychological suffering.
 

  • • IntenSati.   This is a novel workout method, created by Patricia Moreno in NYC, which combines exercise with the power of positive affirmations, shouted in a call-and-response format.
  • • Short-Term Meditation.  In these studies we are investigating the effects of having a master present/absent, as well as placebo effects of meditation.
  • • Deep Human Connection.  Using an intervention created by Dr. Dobkins which allows people to simply “be” together, we are investigating whether/how this intervention enhances empathic accuracy, we well as mental well-being.
  • • Hugging and Touch.  We are investigating the effects of hugging and touch on establishing intimacy and enhancing mental well-being.
  • • Journaling.  We are looking at how journaling about inspiration fictional and real people enhances well-being.
  • • Interoception (Body Awareness).   This refers to the ability to sense the physiological condition of the body, including: heart rate and breathing rate, posture, pain, and arousal. We all have an intuition about this sense through our use of phrases such as  “I have a gut feeling” or “My heart is breaking”.   We are interested in how body awareness affects well-being and feelings of connectedness.