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Dr. Chiara Bulgarelli

  • Overview



    I am a Developmental Neuroscientist.

    I completed a BSc at the Università degli Studi di Parma (Italy) and a MSc at the University' Vita Salute San Raffaele di Milano (Italy). I obtained a PhD in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience at the Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development at Birkbeck in 2018 with a thesis titled Investigating emerging self-awareness: its neural underpinnings, the significance of self-recognition, and the relationship with social interactions. I then joined the Brain Imaging for Global Health (BRIGHT) Project as a Postdoctoral Researcher at University College London (Dept. of Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering) from 2019 to 2022. 

    I am currently an Early Career Leverhulme Trust Research Fellow at the world’s first ToddlerLab at Birkbeck where I am pioneering the use of cutting-edge technologies to naturalistically study the development of empathy in toddlers.

    Since October 2022, I am module convenor and lecturer on the BSc module Introduction to Developmental Psychology at Birkbeck.


    • My main research interest is to study neurodevelopment during social interactions to explore mechanisms of change from infancy to childhood.

    • I am a neuroscientist with more than eight years’ experience in neuroimaging methods, with deep knowledge of functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS).

    • I am module convenor coordinator and lecturer on the BSc Module Introduction to Developmental Psychology at Birkbeck.

    • My current main research project leverages innovative real-time wearable fNIRS and virtual reality to study the development of empathy during toddler-avatar interactions at the Birkbeck world’s first ToddlerLab.


    • PhD, Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, Birkbeck, University of London (London, UK), 2018
    • MSc, Istituto Scientifico e Universita' Vita-Salute San Raffaele (Milan, Italy), 2013
    • BSc, Universita' degli Studi di Parma (Parma, Italy), 2011

    Web profiles

    Professional memberships

    • Society for Functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy (SfNIRS)

    • FLUX society for developmental neuroscientists

    • Post-doc representative for Early Career Researchers in the Respect 4 Neurodevelopment network (R4N)

    • Emerging Field Group (EFG)

    • fNIRS Many Babies consortium

    Honours and awards

    • Early Investigator Award (2nd place), SfNIRS, August 2022
    • Early Career Research Fellowship, Leverhulme Trust, August 2022
    • Bogue Fellowship, University College London, August 2019
    • Scholarship, Italian Health Ministry, August 2016
    • Wellcome Trust Institutional Strategic Fund Fellowship (ISSF), Wellcome Trust, August 2018


  • Research


    Research interests

    • neurodevelopment from infancy to childhood
    • functional near-infrared spectroscopy
    • social development
    • naturalistic neuroscience
    • functional networks development

    Research overview

    My main research interest is to study neurodevelopment during social interactions to explore mechanisms of change from infancy to childhood.I have a strong passion in understanding social aspects of human nature changes over time, which has always gone hand in hand with my interest in advancing data-analysis methods for functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), a non-invasive neuroimaging tool that uses light to measure brain activation. My research is characterised by a high level of interdisciplinarity, as I have always collaborated with Psychologists, Engineers, Physicist, Neuroscientists and Global Health experts.

    During my PhD, I explored mechanisms underlying self-other differentiation in 18 months. Moreover, I advanced techniques to study infant brain connectivity using fNIRS, a relatively new neuroimaging technique widely used in developmental neuroscience.

    I then joined as a post-doc the Brain Imaging for Global Health (BRIGHT) project, a big longitudinal project that aims to establish brain function-for-age curves of infants who grow in a low-resource context. Within this project, I was in charge of analysing the fNIRS datasets and defining a standardised analysis pipeline for fNIRS data collected in global health. I have also worked on identifying developmental trajectories of functional connectivity in Gambian infants and its relationship with early growth and later cognitive outcome. This work is crucial to emphasise the importance of the first months of life for infant development and inform strategies of interventions. 

    As a Research Fellow, I am now pioneering the use of cutting-edge technologies such as wearable fNIRS and virtual-reality to naturalistically study the development of empathy in toddlers, to eventually use VR to train social skills in children.

    My work is supported by project grants from the Leverhulme Trust, Wellcome Trust, Bill and Melinda Gates foundation

    Research Centres and Institutes

  • Supervision and teaching

    Supervision and teaching


    I welcome enquiries from prospective PhD students who are interested in undertaking research in any of my areas of research interest.


    Introduction to Developmental Psychology (SCPS203H4_2324)

    Please write an email to to ask questions about the course or request a Teams meeting.

  • Publications


    External Repositories

  • Business and community

    Business and community


    I am happy to receive enquiries from the media on the following topics:

    • Naturalistic Neuroscience
    • Social Development (empathy and emotion recognition in toddlers)
    • fNIRS and other neurotechnologies


      • Consultancies and expert advice

        Support researcher at Gowerlabs Limited, an optical neuroimaging technology company