• Meghan Swanson

    Developmental Cognitive Neuroscientist

  • Meghan Swanson is a developmental and cognitive neuroscientist. In her research she investigates the neurobiology of early communication. She is also interested in how infants and their parents communicate and how this early communication impacts brain development and later language and cognitive skills.

  • The brain is a world consisting of a number of unexplored continents and great stretches of unknown territory.

    -Santiago Ramón y Cajal

  • Research

    A Multimodal Approach to Developmental Neuroscience

    Meghan is currently a postdoctoral fellow working with Joseph Piven, M.D. on the Infant Brain Imaging Study (IBIS), a NIH Autism Center for Excellence at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her research is supported by a NIH K99/R00 Pathway to Independence Award (PI Swanson, K99MH108700).


    Meghan is interested in the neurobiology underlying emerging language skills in typically developing infants and infants with psychopathology. In her research, she aims to determine if adult models of language neurobiology are reflected in the infant, or if there are unique brain-behavior associations for the developing brain. For example, she has found that development of the splenium of the corpus callosum, a fiber tract associated with visual orienting, was associated with language skills in infants, but adult-model language tracts (e.g., the arcuate fasciculus) were not (Swanson et al. , 2015, Developmental Science). These findings were among the first to link trajectories of brain development to cognitive development during infancy, and further link the splenium to social development. Meghan also investigates the brain development of infants with autism and Fragile X syndrome.

    Since infants do not learn how to talk in a vacuum, and parents play a vital role in language acquisition, Meghan also investigates how the early home language environment supports development. She has shown that 9-month old infants at high familial risk for autism vocalize more than their typically developing peers (Swanson et al., 2017, Child Development). Interestingly, the high-risk infants who vocalized the most, engaged in the least social babbling, indicating that vocalizations in these infants may not be socially contingent. Future efforts include determining how the home language environment and infant brain development are interrelated and collectively influence later child outcomes. She believes that understanding the brain mechanisms underlying environment-behavior associations will help to identify targets and “sensitive windows” for intervention


    During her doctoral studies, she worked with Michael Siller, Ph.D., at the City University of New York on autism early intervention studies and eye tracking studies of reciprocal social interaction. They found that a treatment, designed by Dr. Siller to increase responsive parental behaviors, increased attachment related behaviors in children with autism (Siller, Swanson, Gerber, Hutman, & Sigman, 2014). Her eye tracking studies revealed associations between autism behaviors and patterns of eye gaze during a reciprocal social interaction paradigm in samples of healthy adults, typically developing children, and children with autism (Swanson, Serlin, & Siller, 2013; Swanson & Siller, 2013, 2014). For a full list of manuscripts generated from this work please see the Publications section below.

  • Publications

    Copyright notice: PDFs on this page are provided to ensure timely non-commercial exchange of scholarly work. In most cases the publishers of these articles hold the sole copyright. All persons copying this information are expected to adhere to the terms and constraints invoked by each publisher's copyright policy. In most cases, these works may not be reposted without the explicit permission of the copyright holder.

    Peer-Reviewed Manuscripts (*denotes mentee/advisee)

    Swanson, M.R., Shen, M.D., Wolff, J.J., Elison, J.T., Emerson, R., Styner, M., Hazlett, H.C., Truong, K., Watson, L., Paterson, S., Marrus, N., Botteron, K., Pandey, J., Schultz, R.T., Dager, S., Zwaigenbaum, L., Estes, A.M., Piven, J. for the IBIS Network (in press). Subcortical brain and behavior phenotypes differentiate infants who develop ASD versus language delay. Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging. doi: 10.1016/j.bpsc.2017.07.007. Link.


    Swanson, M.R., Shen, M.D., Wolff, J.J., Boyd, B., Clements, M., Rehg, M., Elison, J.T., Paterson, S., Parish-Morris, J., Chappell, J.C., Hazlett, H.C., Emerson, R.W., Botteron, K., Pandey, J., Schultz, R.T., Dager, S.R., Zwaigenbaum, L., Estes, A.M., Piven, J., for the IBIS Network. (2017). Naturalistic home language recordings reveal “hypervocal” infants at high familial risk for autism. Child Development. doi: 10.1111/cdev.12777. PDF.

    Hazlett, H.C., Gu, H., Munsell, B.C., Kim, S.H., Styner, M., Wolff, J.J., Elison, J.T., Swanson, M.R., Zhu, H., Botteron, K.N., Collins, L., Constantino, J.N., Dager, S.R., Estes, A.M., Evans, A.C., Fonov, V., Gerig, G., Kostopoulos, P., Mckinstry, R.C., Pandey, J., Paterson, S., Pruett, J.R., Schultz, R.T., Shaw, D.W., Zwaigenbaum, L., Piven, J., for the IBIS Network. (2017). Early brain development in infants at high risk for autism spectrum disorder. Nature, 542(7641), 348-351. doi:10.1038/nature21369. Link.

    Wolff, J.J., Swanson, M.R., Elison, J.T., Gerig, G., Pruett, J.R., Styner, M., Vachet, C., Botteron, K., Dager, S. R., Estes, A.M., Hazlett, H.C., Schultz, R.T., Shen, M.D., Zwaigenbaum, L., Piven, J., for the IBIS Network. (2017). Neural circuitry at age 6 months associated with later repetitive behavior and sensory features in autism. Molecular Autism, 8(1). doi: 10.1186/s13229-017-0126-z. Link.

    Shen, M.D., Kim, S.H., McKinstry, R.C., Gu, H., Hazlett, H C., Nordahl, C.W., Shaw, D., Elison, J.T., Swanson, M.R., Fonov, V.S., Gerig, G., Dager, S.R., Botteron, K.N., Paterson, S., Schultz, R.T., Evans, A.C., Estes, A.M., Zwaigenbaum, L., Styner, M.A., Amaral, D.G., Piven, J., for the IBIS Network. (2017). Increased extra-axial cerebrospinal fluid in high-risk infants who later develop autism. Biological Psychiatry. doi:j.biopsych.2017.02.1095. Link.

    Emerson, R.W., Adams, C., Nishino, T., Hazlett, H.C., Wolff, J.J., Zwaigenbaum, L., Constantino, J.N., Shen, M.D., Swanson, M.R., Elison, J.T., Kandala, S., Estes, A.M., Botteron, K., Collins, L., Dager, S.D., Evans, A.E., Gerig, G., Gu, H., McKinstry, R.C., Paterson, S., Schultz, R.T., Styner, M., for the IBIS Network, Schlaggar, B.L., Pruett, Jr. J.R., Piven, J. (2017). Functional neuroimaging of high-risk 6-month-old infants predicts a diagnosis of autism at 24 months of age. Science Translational Medicine, 9(393). doi: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aag2882. Link.

    Swanson, M. R., Wolff, J. J., Elison, J., Gu, H., Hazlett, H., Botteron, K., Paterson, S., Styner, M., Gerig, G., Constantino, C., Dager, S., Estes, E., Vachet, C., Piven, J. (2015). Splenium development and early spoken language in human infants. Developmental Science. doi: 10.1111/desc.12360. PDF.

    Swanson, M. R., & Siller, M. (2014). Brief Report: Broad autism phenotype in adults is related to performance on an eye-tracking measure of joint attention. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorder, 44(3), 694-702. doi: 10.1007/s10803-013-1901-0. PDF.

    Erstenyuk*, V., Swanson, M. R., Siller, M. (2014). Pupillary responses during a joint attention task are associated with nonverbal cognitive abilities and sub-clinical symptoms of autism. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorder, 8 (6), 644-653. doi: 10.1016/j.rasd.2014.03.003. PDF.

    Kasari, C., Siller, M., Huynh, L., Shih, W., Swanson, M. R., Hellemann, G. S., Sugar, C. A. (2014). Randomized control trial of parental responsiveness intervention for toddlers at high risk for autism. Infant Behavior and Development, 37(4), 711-721. doi: 10.1016/j.infbeh.2014.08.007. PDF.

    Siller, M., Swanson, M. R., Gerber, A., Hutman, T. & Sigman, M. (2014). A parent-mediated intervention that targets responsive parental behaviors increases attachment behaviors in children with ASD: Results from a randomized clinical trial. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorder, 44(7), 1720-32. doi: 10.1007/s10803-014-2049-2. PDF.

    Siller, M., Swanson, M. R., Serlin, G., & George*, A. (2014). Internal state language in the storybook narratives of children with and without autism spectrum disorder: Investigating relations to theory of mind abilities. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorder, 8(5), 589-596. doi: 10.1016/j.rasd.2014.02.002. PDF.

    Swanson, M. R., Serlin, G., & Siller, M. (2013). Broad autism phenotype in typically developing children predicts performance on an eye-tracking measure of joint attention. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorder, 43(3), 707-718. doi: 10.1007/s10803-012-1616-7. PDF.

    Swanson, M. R., & Siller, M. (2013). Patterns of gaze behavior during an eye-tracking measure of joint attention in typically developing children and children with autism spectrum disorder. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 7(9), 1087-1096. doi: 10.1016/j.rasd.2013.05.007. PDF.

    Bleske-Rechek, A., Remiker, M. W., Swanson, M. R., & Zeug, N. M. (2006). Women more than men attend to indicators of good character: Two experimental demonstrations. Evolutionary Psychology, 4 (248-261). PDF.


    Swanson, M. R., & Piven, J. (2017). Neurodevelopment of autism: The first three years of life. In M. Casanov, A. S. El-Baz, J. S. Suri (Eds). Autism Imaging and Devices. Boca Raton, FL: Taylor and Francis. PDF.

    Rao, H., Clements, M. A., Li, Y., Swanson, M.R., Piven, J., Messinger, D. S. & (in press). Paralinguistic analysis of children’s speech in natural environments. In J. Rehg, S. Murphy, S. Kumar (Eds.). Mobile Health: Sensors, Analytic Methods, and Applications.

    Siller, M., Morgan, L., Swanson, M. R., & Hotez, E. (2013). Promoting early identification of autism in the primary care setting: Bridging the gap between what we know and what we do. In M. Fitzgerald (Ed.), Recent Advances in Autism Spectrum Disorders: Volume 1 (pp. 3-28). Rijeka, Croatia: Intech Open Access Publishers. PDF.

  • Education

    University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

    Postdoctoral Research Fellow 

    2013 – Present

    Primary Mentor: Joseph Piven, M.D.

    City University of New York Graduate Center

    Ph.D. in Psychology- Behavioral Neuroscience


    Primary Mentor: Michael Siller, Ph.D.

    University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire

    B.A. in Psychology


  • Contact Me

    Email: meghan.swanson@cidd.unc.edu

    Telephone: (919) 962-2652

    Address: Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities
    University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
    Campus Box #3367 Chapel Hill, NC 27599