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- Emeritus Professor of Psychology
- Div of Psychology & Lang Sciences
- Faculty of Brain Sciences
Janette Atkinson is an Emeritus Professor in UCL Faculty of Brain Sciences, University College London and a Visiting Professor in the University of Oxford.
She has been elected as a Fellow of the British Academy, the Academy of Medical Sciences and the Academea Europaea. These honours are in recognition of her contribution to understanding of typical and atypical development of vision and visual cognition, in human infants and children.
She established and co-directed the Visual Development Unit (VDU) initially in the University of Cambridge, moving to UCL in 1993 and setting up a second Unit in Oxford University in 2003. The VDU has been supported by five 5-year programme grants and additional project grants from the MRC, together with support from the universities, ESRC, Wellcome Trust, Williams Syndrome Foundation and Leverhulme Trust. Currently she continues research with colleagues and students in UCL Division of Psychology and Language Sciences, UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, the Departments of Experimental Psychology and Paediatrics in the University of Oxford, and the Center for Human Development in the University of California, San Diego.
She has had research collaborations in Europe, USA and Asia (currently in USA and Italy) including working with Francis Crick, Ursula Bellugi, Bela Julesz, Stuart Anstis, Fergus Campbell, Howard Egeth, Joan Stiles, and Terry Jernigan. She has collaborated in her research with clinical colleagues in ophthalmology, optometry, neonatology and paediatric neurology, and has disseminated her research findings not only among academics but also to those working in medicine and education, and particularly to the families of those who have participated in her studies.
As well as being a pioneer of developmental research, she is a strong supporter of women researchers’ professional development, through mentoring and her involvement in Athena SWAN in her capacity as an elected member of the Athena SWAN Steering Committee and UCL’s first Athena SWAN Ambassador and Coordinator. She is a strong supporter of international collaboration in higher education, having been the first UCL Pro-Provost for North America.
She is a dedicated mother of four children (2 girls and 2 boys) with Oliver Braddick (her husband and research partner throughout her research career) and grandmother of 5 grandchildren (so far).
Jan Atkinson’s research has been wide ranging over many years. She has directed the Visual Development Unit (VDU) on developmental visual and cognitive neuroscience, which from the very beginning has involved an interdisciplinary team of psychologists, neuroscientists and clinicians in paediatric ophthalmology, optometry, neonatology and paediatric neurology. Throughout her research she uses newly developed behavioural, electrophysiological (VEP, ERP,EEG) and brain imaging techniques.
She developed one of the first detailed neurobiological models of infant visual brain development showing the timescale of functional modules within visual cortex. She has measured the developmental trajectory in childhood of acuity, pattern processing (texture), contrast sensitivity, stereo vision, motion sensitivity , accommodation and refraction, control of shifts of visual attention, and coherent global form and motion sensitivity in dorsal and ventral streams
She directed two infant vision screening programmes (8000+ infants), using isotropic photo- and video-refraction (VDU inventions) to identify refractive error in infancy. She led two RCTs of early spectacle correction in infancy, which showed reduction in the common disorders of strabismus and amblyopia.
She has successfully developed methods to assess vision and visual cognition in developmental disorders and individuals with intellectual disability, including Williams syndrome, Autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and children suffering from perinatal brain insults (HIE /focal lesions). Many tests for the first years of life have proved to predict later outcome. She developed and used the behavioural battery, ‘Atkinson Battery of Child Development to Examine Functional Vision - ABCDEFV’ to assess sensory, perceptual, cognitive ,visuo-motor and spatial vision in any child in the developmental age range birth to 5 years with genetic or acquired visual disorders. Studies have included measures of spatial location memory in early childhood, identifying the different representations and their neural underpinnings (related to on hippocampal functioning in adult neurological patients with focal lesions). She has proposed the influential hypothesis of ‘dorsal stream vulnerability’ indicated by global form and motion sensitivity, and associated spatial, visuomotor, and attention deficits
Under her leadership , recent and current research includes studies of:
-infants’ global processing and attention control using new multielectrode geodesic arrays for brain imaging.
- dorsal stream action systems: eye movements for shifts of attention , reaching and grasping , navigation, stair descent;
- childhood attention (selective/ sustained/ executive control) using the ECAB (Early Child Attention Battery)- a new preschool attention battery developed in the VDU. ECAB is now being converted into an iPad app
-infants at risk of cerebral palsy- in the Oxford University ‘Dolphin’ pilot CRT - dietary intervention.
- in the ‘PLING’ study, University of California, San Diego on typically developing children- identifying links of global motion sensitivity with structural brain development (MRI), visuo-motor spatial ability and mathematical cognition, thus extending the concept of ‘dorsal stream vulnerability’.
In each case her work aims to develop and test developmental neurobiological models of the brain mechanisms underlying infants’ and children’s abilities and limitations, linking developmental research to research in cognitive neuroscience and neurology in normal adults, adult patients and other species.
Janette Atkinson has taught undergraduate and graduate courses to students in Neuroscience, Psychology and Medicine in UCL, University of California San Diego, Cambridge University, and Oxford University. Topics have included Visual Development, Developmental Psychology, and Introduction to Psychology for Medical Students. She has organized live demonstrations of infant and child behaviour as a teaching aid in many of these courses.
She has also contributed to postgraduate medical teaching in the UCL Institutes of Child Health, Neurology, and Ophalmology, UCLH and the Hammersmith Hospital, to professional courses for Clinical Neuropsychology, and to a number of courses on Paediatric Neurology in Italy.