Francys Subiaul

Associate Professor
Room 204
Address: Hall of Government
2115 G Street NW
Washington, District Of Columbia 20052
Phone: 202-994-7208

Areas of Expertise

  • Social Cognition
  • Social Intelligence
  • Autism
  • Imitation
  • Non-verbal Communication
  • Animal Cognition
  • Cognitive Development
  • Cognitive Evolution


Associate Research Scientist
National Zoological Park 
Smithsonian Institution

Current Research

  • The Subiaul Social Cognition Lab investigates social intelligence in human and non-human primates.
  • Our work focuses on a cornerstone of human intelligence: observational and imitation learning.
  • Some of the questions we are currently pursuing include:
    • How and what do children and primates learn from others?
    • What are the characteristics of good versus bad imitators?
    • Do human and non-human primates differ in the types of rules or responses that they can copy?
    • In humans, does the imitation of different types of rules or responses (spatial, motor, cognitive, vocal) develop in different stages?
  • Through collaborations with the National Zoo and Children’s National Medical Center as well as with scientists in Columbia University, McMaster University, and the University of Southern Mississippi, we aim to address these questions in order to shed light on the development and evolution of the social mind.


  • Subiaul, F (2011-2012). George Washington University: University Facilitating Fund. Mechanisms of Imitation Learning in Children ($24, 540).
  • Hu, V., Potolicchio, S., Jenkins, R., Subiaul, F., Better, D., Choi, J. (2010-2012). MFA Collaborative Research Program: Identifying and assessing "biological phenotypes" of autistic individuals based on medication responsiveness for "reverse pharmacogenomics" analysis ($99,540)
  • Subiaul, F. (2009-11). National Science Foundation. EAGER Grant: Assessing Learning in Pre-Verbal Populations Using ‘Gaze Click’ Technology.
  • Subiaul, F. (2008-2013). National Science Foundation. CAREER: The Evolution of Cultural Learning (BCS-0748717). [$440,861].
  • Subiaul, F. (2008). National Institutes of Health. Loan Repayment Program: Identifying Imitation Learning Deficits in Children with Autism (FWFR1158). [$30,649].
  • Zawidzki, T., Subiaul, F., Sherwood C (2008-2011). The George Washington University, Research Enhancement Fun. Mind, Brain & Evolution Center. [$103,500]
  • Subiaul, F. (2007) The George Washington University, University Facilitating Funds. Do children with autism offer explanations for social dilemmas? [$7,700]
  • Terrace, H.S., Metcalfe, J., Subiaul, F. (2005-08). J.S. McDonnell Foundation. The Evolution of Metacognition ($449,080). [Subcontract PI: Subiaul ($241,347)]


Subiaul, F., Vonk, J., & Rutherford, M.D. (in Press). The Ghost in the Computer: How Agency-Attribution Mediates Cognitive Imitation in a Ghost Control. PLOS ONE.

Okamoto-Barth, S., Moore, C., Barth, J., Subiaul, F., & Povinelli, D. (2011). Carry-over effect of joint attention to repeated events in chimpanzees and young children. Developmental Sciences.

Subiaul, F. (2010). Dissecting the Imitation Faculty: The Multiple Imitation Mechanisms Hypothesis. Behavioral Processes, 83(2): 222-34.

Vonk. J., & Subiaul, F. (2009). Do chimpanzees know what others can and cannot do? Animal Cognition, 12(2): 267-86 [E-Pub Sept. 3, 2008]

Subiaul, F. (in Press). Dissecting the Imitation Faculty: The Multiple Imitation Mechanisms Hypothesis. Behavioral Processes. Invited Review.

Subiaul, F., Vonk, J., Okamoto-Barth, S. (2008). Chimpanzees Learn the Reputation of Strangers by Observation.  Animal Cognition, 11(4): 611-23 [E-Pub Mar. 21, 2008]

Sherwood, C., Subiaul, F., & Zawidszki, T. (2008). A Natural History of the Human Mind, Journal of Anatomy, 212(4): 426-54.

Subiaul, F. (2007). The Imitation Faculty in Monkeys: Evaluating is features, distribution and evolution.  Journal of Anthropological Sciences, 85: 35-62.

Subiaul, F., Cantlon, J., Romansky, K., Klein, T., Terrace, H.S. (2007). Cognitive Imitation in 2-year-old Human Toddlers: A Comparison with Rhesus Monkeys. Animal Cognition, 10(4): 369-75. [E-Pub Feb. 8, 2007]

Subiaul, F., Lurie, H., Klein, T., Holmes, D., Terrace H.S. (2007) Cognitive Imitation in Typically-Developing 3- and 4-year-olds and Individuals with Autism. Cognitive Development, 22: 230-43.

Subiaul, F., Okamoto-Barth, S., Barth, J., & Povinelli D.J. (2007). Human Cognitive Specializations. In Todd M. Preuss & John H. Kaas (eds) Evolution of Nervous Systems: Volume V; The Evolution of Primate Nervous Systems. Elsevier: New York.

Professional Activities

  • Member of the Mind-Brain Institute and co-director of the Mind, Brain and Evolution Cluster (with Tad Zawidzski and Chet Sherwood)
  • Director of the Ape Mind Initiative at the National Zoo
  • Research Fellow: Smithsonian National Zoological Park
  • Reviewer for the following publications and organizations:
    • National Institutes of Health
    • Behavioural Processes
    • Psychonomic Bulletin & Review
    • Animal Cognition
    • Journal of Experimental Child Psychology
  • Departmental Library Representative

Classes Taught

  • SPHR 1071: Foundations of Human Communication
  • SPHR 2133: Autism
  • SPHR 6291: Special Topics: Autism
  • SPHR 3199: Mind, Brain and Evolution I
  • SPHR 3199: Mind, Brain and Evolution II