Karen R. Dobkins, Ph.D., UC San Diego, Professor of Psychology

Research Interests

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.

Although the Dobkins laboratory has a long history of studying development (sensory, cognitive and emotional) in typical and atypical (deaf people and those with Autism) populations, in more recent years, the laboratory has focused on studies of Mindfulness and Love and Relationships, with two main areas of emphasis:

1) 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.

2) 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?