Francys Subiaul

Francys Subiaul headshot
Undergraduate Advisor, Associate Professor, Associate Research Professor at the National Building Museum
Room 204
Hall of Government
2115 G Street NW
Washington, District Of Columbia 20052
[email protected]

Areas of Expertise

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

Francys Subiaul is a Cognitive Scientist with a background in experimental psychology and biological anthropology. His research explores the nature and origins of social intelligence, specifically, social-cultural learning. The ability to rapidly, efficiently, and accurately copy others’ knowledge and responses underlies many of our species’ distinctive qualities including speech and writing as well as the use of complex tools. Dr. Subiaul and his colleagues seek to better understand the psychological features underlying our species' distinct imitative abilities as well as characterize its development.




Current Research

The Subiaul Social Cognition Lab focuses on understanding the development and origins of social learning including characterizing its underlying cognitive and neural mechanisms and relationship to other forms of social and asocial learning. 


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)]


Rutherford MD, Subiaul F (2016). Children with Autism have an Exceptional Explanatory Drive. Autism. Aug;20(6):744-53, doi: 10.1177/1362361315605973

Subiaul, F., °Winters, K., °Krumpak, K., Core, C. (2016). Vocal Overimitation in Preschool Age Children. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, Jan; 141:145-60. doi: 10.1016/j.jecp.2015.08.010. Epub 2015 Sep 26.

Subiaul, F., Zimmermann, L., Renner, E., Schilder, B., Barr, R (In Press). Elemental Imitation Mechanisms in Preschool Age Children. Journal of Cognition & Development.

Subiaul, F., Krajkowski, E., Price, E. E., Etz, A. (2015). Imitation by combination: Preschool age children evidence summative imitation in a novel problem-solving task. Frontiers in Psychology, 6:1410.doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01410.

Subiaul, F., Winters, K., Krumpak, K., Core, C. (2015). Vocal Overimitation in Preschool Age Children. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology.

Renner, E., Price, E., Subiaul, F. (2015). Sequential Recall of Lists with Meaningful and Meaningless Content Cues by Orangutans and Human Children. Animal Cognition. 

Subiaul, F., Patterson, E. M., Barr, R. (2015). The Cognitive Structure of Goal Emulation in Preschool Age Children: Recruitment of multiple learning processes. British Journal of Developmental Psychology.

Subiaul, F., Patterson, E., Renner, E., Schilder, B., Barr, R. (2014). Becoming a High Fidelity—Super—Imitator: The role of social and asocial learning in imitation development. Developmental Science. Dec 28. doi: 10.1111/desc.12276. [Epub ahead of print]

Subiaul, F. & Schilder, B. (2014). Working Memory Constraints on Imitation and Emulation. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 128, 190-200. DOI: 10.1016/j.jecp.2014.07.005.

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., & Zawidzki, 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: Mind-Brain Institute and co-director of the Mind, Brain and Evolution Cluster (with Tad Zawidzki and Chet Sherwood)
  • Member: GW Institute for Neuroscience
  • 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


Associate Research Scientist
Research Associate in National Building Museum

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