Francys Subiaul

Person image.

Francys Subiaul

Undergraduate Advisor, Associate Professor, Associate Research Professor at the National Building Museum



Office Phone: 202-994-7208
Room 204, Hall of Government, 2115 G Street NW Washington Washington DC 20052

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. (2021). Assessing Social Learning in Children: Social and Executive Learning in Early Childhood Task (SELECT) Battery. George Washington University, University Facilitating Funds. [$16,510]

Subiaul, F., Park, C., Darcy-Mahoney, Core, C., Wallace, G. (2019). Automated Social Cognitive Imitation Screener for Infants with Autism. Clinical & Translational Science Institute at Children’s National Medical Center (CTSI-CN) Award #: 5UL1TRR001876 [$50,000].

Subiaul, F (2014-2016). George Washington University: University Facilitating Fund. Mechanisms of Imitation Learning in Children [$20,100].

Renner, E. & Subiaul, F. (2014-2015). Leakey Foundation, Dissertation Improvement Award: Individual, Observation, and Imitation Learning in Humans and Great Apes [$2,645].

Philbeck, J., Shomstein, S., Subiaul, F. (2012 – 2014). George Washington University: Centers & Institute Facilitating Funds. Mechanisms underlying visual-spatial attention [$90,000].

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 Collabroative 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 (BCS-0946376) [$199,873].

Subiaul F (2007-2014). National Science Foundation. CAREER: The Evolution of Cultural Learning (BCS-0748717). [$440,861].


Zimmermann, L., Frank, H., Subiaul, F., & Barr, R. (2021). Visuospatial Working Memory Development:  An Examination of Age-related Changes and Sex Differences in Preschoolers. Developmental Psychobiology.

Speidel, R., Zimmermann, L., Green, L., Brito, N.H., Subiaul, F.,  Barr R.L. (2021). Optimizing imitation: Examining cognitive factors leading to imitation, overimitation, and goal emulation in preschoolers. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology. 203, 105036

Subiaul, F., Stanton, M. (2020). Intuitive Invention by Summative Imitation in Children and AdultsCognition. 202. 

Renner, E., Patterson, E., Subiaul, F. (2020). Specialization in the vicarious learning of novel arbitrary sequences in humans but not orangutans. Proceedings of the Royal Society, Philosophical Transactions B. DOI: 10.1098/ RSTB-2019-0442.

Renner E, White JP, Hamilton AFC, Subiaul F. (2018). Neural responses when learning spatial and object sequencing tasks via imitation. PLoS One. 2018 Aug 3;13(8):e0201619. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0201619. eCollection.

Meltzoff A.N., Murray, L., Simpson, E. Heimann, M., Nagy, E., Nadel, J., Pedersen, E.J., Brooks, R., Messinger, D.S., De Pascalis, L., Subiaul, F., Paukner, A., Ferrari, P.F. (2018). Re-examination of Oostenbroek et al. (2016): evidence for neonatal imitation of tongue protrusionDevelopmental Science. 2017;e12609. 

Subiaul, F. (2016). What’s special about human imitation? A comparison with enculturated apes. Behavioral Sciences. 6 (16), doi:10.3390/bs6030013

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., 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. Nov;18(6):1025-35. doi: 10.1111/desc.12276. Epub 2014 Dec 28

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., Anderson S., Brandt J., Elkins, J. (2012). Multiple Imitation Mechanisms in Children. Developmental Psychology. 48(4): 1165-79

Subiaul F, Vonk J, Barth J, Okamoto-Barth S (2008). Do Chimpanzees Learn the Reputation of Strangers by Observation. Animal Cognition, 11(4): 611-23 [Epub 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, Cantlon, JF, Holloway, Terrace HS (2004). Cognitive Imitation in Rhesus Macaques. Science, 305(5682), 407-10.

Professional Activities

  • Co-Director: Mind-Brain Institute
  • Co-director: Mind, Brain and Evolution Cluster (with Tad Zawidzki and Chet Sherwood)
  • SLHS Undergraduate Advisor
  • Member: GW Institute for Neuroscience
  • Reviewer for the following publications and organizations:
    • National Institutes of Health
    • National Science Foundation
    • Cognition
    • Child Development
    • Child Psychology
    • 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

SLHS 1000: Origins of Social Intelligence

SLHS 1000: Evolution of the Human Mind

SLHS 1071: Foundations of Human Communication

SLHS 2101: Research Methods in SLHS

SLHS 3133 & 6204: Autism

SLHS 4201: Social Communication Development