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Cambridge Laboratory for Research into Autism


Kirsten Barnes

Kirsten was a PhD student under the supervision of Dr Kate Plaisted-Grant. Her primary research interests were concerned with how individuals detect traces of other agents within their physical environments, as well as how people come to reason about and represent the minds of others. Kirsten was also interested in personality psychology and individual differences research. In particular she was interested in the behavioural and cognitive sequel of schizotypal traits, such as loosening of criterion response in the face of ambiguous sensory input, as well as the psychometric properties of the Autism Spectrum Quotient as a potential personality dimension. Additionally, she had a line of interest involving the induction and measurement of negative affective states (e.g. fear) using physiological measurements such as facial electromyography and electrodermal response. Kirsten received a B.Sc. with first-class hons in Experimental Psychology from the University of Bristol and an M.A. with distinction in Psychology of Religion from the University of London. While completing her M.A., Kirsten also worked full-time for three years as a research assistant to Dr Nicholas Gibson, as part of the Psychology and Religion Research Group. She spent a further year working alongside Dr Gibson as a Co-Investigator on a JTF Cognition, Religion and Theology Grant awarded by the University of Oxford. Kirsten is now employed full-time on a JTF grant exploring agency detection and religious beliefs, the content of which overlaps with her PhD. Kirsten is now a postdoc at the University of Sydney.

Laura Brown

Laura's primary interests are in neurodevelopmental disorders and language, as well as the relationship between language and other domains, particularly executive function. During her PhD Laura profiled the executive skills and language profiles of individuals with autism over the middle childhood years, whilst controlling more stringently for language variables. Difficulties with comprehension are often regarded as one of the defining features of autism. These comprehension difficulties are particularly evident when individuals are required to integrate information within a context and also when faced with ambiguous expressions. In line with this, Laura's PhD work focused on the use of context for syntactic and semantic category disambiguation. She aimed to expand on and improve the homograph research in this sample taking a closer look at the multiple ambiguities of stimulus items and exploring possible explanations behind these deficits, drawing on both psychological and linguistic.

Johanna Finnemann

Johanna was a PhD student under the supervision of Dr Kate Plaisted-Grant. Her primary research interests concerned sensorimotor integration and somatosensation which she investigated from a computational as well as experimental point of view. In particular she aimed to understand how optimal control, predictive processes, motor learning and proprioceptive accuracy may differ in individuals with autism spectrum disorders and how these differences relate to functional connectivity of the primary motor cortex, premotor cortex, SMA and cerebellum. Prior to starting her PhD, Johanna completed an MRes at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience (UCL) investigating the relationship between self-referential cognition, theory of mind and prospective thinking in autism spectrum disorders. She received her first degree in linguistics and experimental psychology from the University of Cambridge. Johanna is now a postdoc in the Health Neuroscience Group at the University of Cambridge.

Rosannah Cormack

Rosannah was a PhD student under the supervision of Dr Kate Plaisted-Grant. Her primary interests concerned perception in autism and understanding the psychological mechanisms that might account for the complex cognitive and perceptual profile of individuals with autism. In particular she was interested in proposals suggesting that levels of neural noise might be atypical in autism; specifically, the view that low levels of neural noise may characterize the autistic brain. During her PhD she exploited the various actions of noise in neural networks to test predictions made by a low neural noise hypothesis. She studied processes found to be enhanced in autism, such as discrimination, as well as those which are proposed to be reduced and of clinical relevance to the disorder, such as generalization and attention switching.

Rose Cooper

Rose was a PhD student in both CLaRA and the Memory Laboratory, under the supervision of Dr. Jon Simons and Dr. Kate Plaisted-Grant. She received a BSc with first-class hons in Psychology from the University of Nottingham and an MSc with distinction in Cognitive and Decision Sciences from University College London. Her primary research interest concerned episodic memory, specifically looking at how and why this can differ in individuals with autism at both behavioural and neurological levels. While autism is by no means an ‘amnesic’ disorder, there are subtle differences in the way events are remembered, such as reduced ability to recall an event context. Rose aimed to further explore the processes underlying these differences by studying metacognitive judgements of memory as well as memory for self-perspective and feature integration, for example. Rose is now a postdoc at Boston College.