A portrait of SFARI Investigator GIllian Forrester.

Gillian Forrester, Ph.D.

Professor, University of Sussex

SFARI Investigator Website

Gillian Forrester is a professor of comparative cognition in the School of Psychology at the University of Sussex, where she directs the Comparative Cognition Group. She has a B.Sc. in Cognitive Science from the University of California, San Diego and a Ph.D. in experimental psychology from the University of Oxford. She received postdoctoral training at the Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, Birkbeck, University of London for infant development and the University of Sussex in comparative multimodal communication funded by the Daphne Jackson Trust.

Forrester has two primary research strands which focus on the development and the evolution of cognitive abilities. She utilizes behavioral methods to investigate how cognitive abilities evolve and develop over time in human and nonhuman great apes. From an evolutionary perspective, she is specifically interested in social and communication abilities and designs novel non-verbal comparative paradigms that translate across child, chimpanzee, gorilla and orangutan participants. Her developmental investigations are situated within an evolutionary framework which considers motor sensory development as a foundational component of emerging cognitive abilities. Forrester works closely with clinicians and therapists to design studies that capture early windows of change, plasticity and differences in the motor-cognitive developmental trajectories of infants at high and low risk for autism.

Forrester is a senior fellow of the Higher Education Authority and a member of the advisory boards for Autism Spectrum Research and EI: SMART. She has published over 60 publications across scientific journals, books and for media disseminations. In 2019, she launched the Me, Human project with funding from the Wellcome Trust and the Waterloo Foundation to act as an umbrella for her public engagement activities. The inter-institutional team have been featured at the London Science Museum, Bluedot Festival 2022 and Glastonbury Festival 2022, and they claimed two Public Engagement awards in 2020. Forrester now sits on the organizing committee for the new Science Futures arm of Glastonbury Festival. She also makes regular contributions to television, radio, podcasts and web-based newsprint. She recently partnered with New Scientist for a documentary, several articles and features at New Scientist Live London 2022.

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