Principal Investigator, Collaborating Implementation Site Co-Director
As a clinical psychologist who directs the Yale Developmental Disabilities Clinic, James McPartland, Ph.D., spends a lot of time with patients with autism. He uses that experience as a neuroscientist to design experiments to understand how the brain works and how development of children with autism differs from typical development.
Dr. McPartland’s research is focused on understanding the way people with autism process social information by using electroencephalography (EEG) to detect electrical activity in the brain. He published the first study to show that people with autism process faces with decreased efficiency and has continued this work to examin autistic development before behavioral symptoms emerge in infants who have a higher risk for autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
One of the challenges in conducting this type of research is to create ways of measuring brain activity in real life social situations. Dr. McPartland has worked with Yale cognitive scientist Adam Naples, Ph.D., to create realistic avatars that respond to eye contact to show that there is a specific brain marker for eye contact, a new finding. A video game in which participants are rewarded for making eye contact at the appropriate time illustrates his efforts to not just understand brain activity, but also shape behavior.
The Autism Biomarkers Consortium for Clinical Trials is a large scale longitudinal multi-site research study based at Yale that spans Duke University, Boston Children’s Hospital, University of Washington/Seattle Children’s Research Institute and the University of California, Los Angeles. The network will develop a battery of electrophysiological, eye tracking, and behavioral tools to measure social function and communication in people with autism.