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Karen Dobkins, Ph.D.

Karen Dobkins, Ph.D.
Director, Mind, Experience & Perception Laboratory

Karen Dobkins is a Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of California, San Diego, and the Director of the Mind, Experience & Perception Laboratory (formerly Infant Vision Laboratory). She earned her Ph.D. in Neurosciences at the University of California, San Diego in 1992. She has been conducting research on infant and child development for over 20 years. Areas of study in the Dobkins lab include visual, cognitive, emotional and social development. Her laboratory works with both typical and atypical populations, including infants born prematurely, infants born at risk for developing Autism, as well as individuals born deaf. The work is supported the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) as well as many private funding agencies.


In more recent years, Dr. Dobkins has been using her expertise in infant visual development to help design learning spaces for kids, with the goal of increasing the visibility of objects in the learning environment as well as designing rooms that improve mental well being.


Development.  The goal of this research is to understand typical and atypical development in terms of underlying biological mechanisms.  To this end, we study visual, cognitive and sleep pattern development in 1) typical infants, 2) deaf infants (including those that have received cochlear implants), 3) “high-risk” infants (including those born prematurely, and/or at risk for developing Autism, and 4) children/adolescents with Autism. Our developmental studies employ several different types of measures: perceptual methods, actigraphy, hormonal assays, and behavioral assessments.


Mindfulness and Mental Well-being:  With anxiety and depression on the rise, our laboratory is looking into novel Mindfulness-based approaches for enhancing mental well-being.   This includes: 1) The effects of a “Principles of Clarity” (16 hour) workshop created and led by Dr. Dobkins, 2) The effects of exercise and positive affirmations, 3) The effects of mindfulness and compassion meditation, 4) The effects of a “deep human connection” intervention on the ability to read the feelings of others (what we refer to as “Theory of Heart”), and 5) The effects of hugging on establishing intimacy.  Some of our studies are now being conducted in other countries, including China and Japan, which allows for a cross-cultural comparison.


Relationships.  Complementing the Mindfulness work is our fascination with romantic and non-romantic relationships:  how people view them, and what people expect from them.  Working in collaboration with the laboratories of Nicholas Christenfeld and Christine Harris at UCSD, we are asking questions such as: 1)  how do people represent themselves to, and want do they want from, a potential romantic partner?  and 2) how do people view their own sexuality (i.e., behaviors and desires) in comparison to percepts of others’ sexuality of the same gender, and do men and women have misperceptions about each other’s sexuality?