Anna Järvinen-Pasley, Ph.D.
Research Associate (2005-)
Ph.D. 2005, Psychology, Goldsmiths College, University of London, London, UK
My main research interests include the cognitive and neural causes of developmental disorders, particularly Williams syndrome (WS) and autism. Autism is a pervasive neurodevelopmental disorder that is diagnosed on the basis of difficulties in social interaction, atypical language, stereotyped interests, and repetitive behaviors. My Ph.D. studies, carried out at Goldsmiths College, University of London, under the supervision of Dr. Pamela Heaton, examined speech processing in children with autism, with specific focus on identifying atypical patterns of auditory processing. Our studies showed superior perceptual processing of speech in individuals with autism relative to age- and intelligence-matched controls. The results also suggested that semantic level processing may not be the primary, or “default”, speech-processing mode. The overly focused auditory-perceptual processing may therefore contribute to the undercutting of higher-level language skills.
Here at the Laboratory for Cognitive Neuroscience, we focus on defining the social phenotype of individuals with WS. I am conducting both psychophysiological and eye tracking studies to examine the role of autonomic nervous system function in social-behavioral tendencies in WS, as well as investigating eye scanning paths with respect to social versus non-social stimuli. I am also interested in the relationship between social-perceptual abilities and expressive social behaviors in individuals with WS. Establishing similarities and differences between the cognitive-behavioral profiles of individuals with WS and those with autism, and contrasting the underlying neurobiological and genetic causes of these disorders, is another area of interest, which ties in closely with my earlier Ph.D. studies.