Psychology

Jennifer Stevenson

Jennifer L. Stevenson, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Ursinus College. She received her B.S. in Psychology from Davidson College, a small liberal arts (Ursinus-like) college in North Carolina. She later received her M.S. and Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. She joined the Ursinus College Psychology Department and Neuroscience Program in 2011.

Dr. Stevenson is a cognitive neuroscientist with a research focus on the autism spectrum. She uses multiple methods ranging from traditional behavioral measures (self-report, response time, and accuracy) to eye-tracking and electroencephalographic techniques. She currently has two main research lines (measuring autistic traits and identifying strengths and weaknesses in autistic cognition) in addition to a budding interest in pedagogy. 

Measuring Autistic Traits

Both autistic and non-autistic individuals vary in their level of autistic traits; in fact, autistic traits are normally distributed in both groups of individuals.

In this line of research, Dr. Stevenson investigates measurement issues related to assessing autistic traits. For example, some researchers categorize non-autistic people as having either low or high levels of autistic traits; however, researchers do not agree on either the scoring method or the categorization method. In a recent paper, Stevenson and Hart (2017) investigated whether scoring method and categorization method affects reliability of the most common measure of adult autistic traits (the Autism-Spectrum Quotient) in college students. Dr. Stevenson is now considering the same question in autistic adults and the general population. Similarly, Dr. Stevenson and her collaborators have also explored how context affects the number of autistic traits you self-report. Gernsbacher, Stevenson, and Dern (2017) found that autistic and non-autistic adults’ self-report of autistic traits depends on whether they are communicating or interacting with autistic or non-autistic people.

Identifying Strengths and Weaknesses in Autistic Cognition

To truly understand an individual or a group of people, you must understand not only their weaknesses, but also their strengths. For too long, researchers have focused on the struggles of individuals on the autism spectrum; Dr. Stevenson strives to maintain a balance in her research on autistic cognition by exploring both strengths and weaknesses.

Whereas non-autistic people tend to prefer to process information at the global level (i.e., the bigger picture), autistic people tend to be more flexible in their processing which gives them an advantage when processing information at the local level (i.e., the details). Dr. Stevenson is currently examining hierarchical (i.e., global versus local) processing in autism, and recently published a preliminary study on the role of musical experience in hierarchical auditory processing in college students (Black, Stevenson, & Bish, in press). Dr. Stevenson is also interested in whether autistic individuals’ weakness in praxis, or the ability to plan and execute a sequence of motor actions may help explain their difficulties in social communication. Stevenson, Lindley, and Murlo (in press) examined how early motor skills relate to current language skills by interviewing with parents of autistic children; Dr. Stevenson and her students are currently examining current-day motor and language skills in autistic children in the laboratory.

Dr. Stevenson welcomes students to do research in her lab, including students on the autism spectrum.

Title

Assistant Professor of Psychology

Department

Psychology

Degrees

  • B.S., Davidson College
  • M.S., Ph.D., University of Wisconsin–Madison

Teaching

CIE-200 The Common Intellectual Experience

NEUR-200WQ Research Methods and Techniques in Neuroscience

PSYC-200WQ Introductory Research Methods and Statistics

NEUR/PSYC-332 Cognitive Neuroscience

NEUR/PSYC-432 Advanced Research Methods in Cognitive Neuroscience

NEUR/PSYC-466 Seminar: Neurodiversity and the Autism Spectrum

Research Interests

Neurodiversity; Autistic traits; Visual and auditory perception; Hierarchical processing; Social communication; Motor skills; Praxis; Structural assessment of knowledge; Pathfinder networks

Recent Work

*student co-author

Peer-Reviewed Publications

*Black, E., Stevenson, J.L., & Bish, J.P. (in press). The role of musical experience in hemispheric lateralization of global and local auditory processing. Perception. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0301006616685954

Stevenson, J.L., *Lindley, C.E., *Murlo, N. (in press). Retrospectively assessed early motor and current pragmatic language skills in autistic and neurotypical children. Perceptual and Motor Skills. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0031512517710379

Gernsbacher, M.A., Stevenson, J.L., & Dern, S. (2017). Specificity, contexts, and reference groups matter when assessing autistic traits. PLoS One, 12, e0171931. http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0171931

Stevenson, J.L., & Hart, K.R. (2017). Psychometric properties of the Autism-Spectrum Quotient for assessing low and high levels of autistic traits in college students. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 47, 1838-1853. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10803-017-3109-1

Stevenson, J.L., *Shah, S., & Bish, J.P. (2016). Use of structural assessment of knowledge for outcomes assessment in the neuroscience classroom. Journal of Undergraduate Neuroscience Education, 15, A38-A43. Retrieved from http://www.funjournal.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/june-15-38.pdf

Stevenson, J.L., & Gernsbacher, M.A. (2013). Abstract spatial reasoning as an autistic strength. PLoS ONE, 8, e59329. http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0059329

Stevenson, J.L., Harp, B., & Gernsbacher, M.A. (2011). Infantilizing autism. Disability Studies Quarterly, 31(3). Retrieved from http://www.dsq-sds.org/issue/view/84

Conference Presentations

Stevenson, J.L., & Hart, K. (2017, May). How reliable is the Autism-Spectrum Quotient at identifying low and high autistic traits in college students? Poster presented at the annual International Meeting for Autism Research, San Francisco, CA.

*Foggo, M.B., *McFarland, B.W., *Wiggin, T.A., & Stevenson, J.L. (2016, April). The relationship between gender, autistic traits, and eye movement patterns during mental rotation and emotional face processing in college students. Poster presented at the annual meeting of the Cognitive Neuroscience Society, New York, NY.

Stevenson, J.L., *Lindley, C. E., & *Murlo, N. (2015, March). Early motor skills and current language skills in autistic and neurotypical children. Poster presented at the biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, Philadelphia, PA.

Stevenson, J.L. (2015, March). Use of discussion boards to springboard discussion and keep it going. Oral presentation given at the annual meeting of the Eastern Psychological Association, Philadelphia, PA.

*Jones, J., *Djambinov, N., *Lloyd, J., & Stevenson, J. L. (2015, March). Assessing the reliability of the Autism Spectrum Quotient in neurotypical adults. Poster presented at the annual meeting of the Eastern Psychological Association, Philadelphia, PA.

Stevenson, J.L., Hart, K. R., *Williams, K. A., & *Muller, L. S. (2014, November). What eye movements reveal about the reliability of the Autism-Spectrum Quotient. Poster presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, Washington, DC.

*Layman, C., Stevenson, J.L., & Bish, J. (2014, May). Visual processing in individuals with differential autistic qualities. Poster presented at the annual meeting of the Association for Psychological Science, San Francisco, CA.

*Adorno, B., *Aziz, Y., *Rodriguez, G., & Stevenson, J.L. (2014, March). Males’ and females’ perceptions of self-esteem and social-support in stressful fictitious scenarios. Poster presented at the annual meeting of the Eastern Psychological Association, Boston, MA.

Stevenson, J.L., Hart, K.R., & *Williams, K.A. (2012, October). An eye-tracking study of visual-spatial problem solving strategies. Poster presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, New Orleans, LA.

Stevenson, J.L., & Gernsbacher, M.A. (2011, November). Abstract spatial reasoning as an autistic strength. Poster presented at the Cell Symposia on Autism Spectrum Disorders, Arlington, VA.