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 approaches for enhancing mental well-being. This line of work is motivated by a desire to ameliorate the rise in stress and depression in society (especially in young people).  We are also interested in comparing effectiveness cross-culturally (specifically, East vs. West).

We have been testing the effects of the following on mental well-being:

  1. Mindfulness Workshops Taught at UCSD.  These are experiential (and playful) workshops 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.
  2. IntenSati.  This is a novel workout method, which combines exercise with the power of positive affirmations, shouted in a call-and-response format.
  3. Short-Term Meditation.  In these studies we are investigating the effects of short-term meditation in novices, looking at the effects of having a master present/absent, as well as placebo effects of meditation.
  4. Deep Human Connection.  Using an intervention created by Dr. Dobkins that allows people to simply “be” together, we are investigating whether/how this intervention enhances empathic accuracy, as well as well-being.
  5. Hugging and Touch.  We are investigating the effects of hugging and touch on establishing intimacy and enhancing mental well-being.
  6. Disclosure.  We are looking at how disclosing about traumatic experiences to a trained listener (or through expressive writing) might improve well-being.
  7. 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.
  8. Using One’s Signature Strengths on a Daily Basis.  Martin Seligman and colleagues have shown that this intervention improves well-being, however, we are looking at other factors that affect this.

Some relevant presentations from our lab:

Dobkins KR, Ku S, Mak K and Fu A (2018). Principles of Clarity: Effects of a novel mindfulness workshop on improving well-being

Dobkins KR, Guo X, Bobba V and Mingjing M (2018). Is the content of the “inner human experience” related to mindfulness and well-being? An experience sampling study

Dobkins KR, Bondi T (2018). Changes in Well-Being from a 30-minute Meditation: Comparing the Effects of Different Delivery Methods

Bondi T, Dobkins KR (2019). Well-being at UCSD.  Using Mindfulness to decrease loneliness, anxiety and depression

Arnold AA, Dobkins KR (2019). Trust Some BODY: Loneliness is associated with altered interoceptive abilities 

Jago C, Christenfeld N, Dobkins KR (2019). What Women Want vs. What Men Think They Do (manuscript in prep)

Dobkins KR, Bergen H, Henschel, Christenfeld N (2019). The effects of hugging on establishing feelings of intimacy. (manuscript in prep)

 

Relationships/Sex

We are fascinated with romantic and non-romantic relationships:  how people view them, and what people expect from them, and what people think is “normal” vs. “weird”.

Current projects include:

  1. What Do Women (and Men) Really Want?  We are investigating how people represent themselves to, and what they want from, a potential romantic partner vs. a friend.
  2. Sexuality.  We are investigating how people view their own sexuality (i.e., behaviors, desires, level of shame) in comparison to percepts of others’ sexuality of the same and opposite genders, as a way of measuring misperceptions about sexuality.