Dr Karri Gillespie-Smith

Senior Lecturer in Applied Psychology


In 2011 I completed a PhD at the University of Stirling on "Eye-tracking explorations of attention to faces for communicative cues in Autism Spectrum Disorders". Following this (2011-2012) I worked at the University of Aberdeen, Self Lab, as a Post-Doctoral Fellow investigating the self-referential effect (SRE) in children and how the SRE impacts on encoding and recall within learning environments. In 2012-2013 I was a researcher in the MRC Centre for Reproductive Health at the University of Edinburgh exploring infant's early cognitive processing using eye-tracking methodology. After the completion of my research post I was based at Heriot Watt University as a Teaching Fellow (2013-2014), then University of West of Scotland as a Lecturer (2014-2019).  I was then appointed as a lecturer in Applied Psychology at the University of Edinburgh in 2019 and promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2022.   

Postgraduate teaching

Dissertation Supervisor - MSc Mental Health (Psychology Conversion)

Dissertation Supervisor - MSc in Applied Psychology for Children and Young People 

Academic tutor/Supervisor - Doctorate in Clinical Psychology

Open to PhD supervision enquiries?


Research summary

I am a Developmental Psychologist interested in linking neurocognitive mechanisms and social/cognitive processes to mental health outcomes in both neurotypical and neurodivergent groups (i.e. autism, intellectual disabilities, adverse childhood experiences).  To explore these processes I am also interested in other extraneous variables (i.e. parenting style, coping strategies and trauma) and the role they may play in the relationship between socio-cognitive processes and mental health outcomes.  I have experience using a wide range of experimental methods including eye-tracking, behavioural tasks, neuropsychological batteries and surveys. Currently I am working on several research areas, please see some of these listed below.  I am interested in collaborating in or supervising projects related to any of the research projects listed below.  

Current research interests

* The impact of COVID on children with intellectual disabilities and their families; * The experiences of vulnerable groups (i.e. autistic groups and groups who have experienced childhood trauma) within the criminal justice system; * Understanding the underpinning neurocognitive factors that contribute to poor mental health in childhood; * Perceptions and experiences of gender in neurodivergent groups; * Perceptions and experiences of relationships in neurodivergent groups; * Eating disordered behaviour in autistic groups.

Knowledge exchange

I am on several expert panels for Scottish, UK, Northern Ireland and Welsh parliament committees.  Recently I submitted written evidence in the UK COVID-19 select committee inquiry on ‘Wellbeing and the long-term impact of the pandemic on parents and families’.  UK COVID-19 select committee meeting June 2021 - https://committees.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/36505/pdf/

I have also contributed to a blog summarising some initial findings on the impact of COVID on parents and caregivers of children with intellectual disabilities - https://blogs.ed.ac.uk/covid19perspectives/2021/05/31/covid-19-and-caregivers-of-children-with-intellectual-disabilities-id-across-the-uk-by-karri-gillespie-smith/


Affiliated research centres

Project activity

Social and cognitive processing in neurotypical and neurodiverse groups and related mental health outcomes

Vulnerable groups within the criminal justice system (trauma and trauma-informed services).

Children with Intellectual Disabilities and their families during COVID-19

Autism and Social Media.

Perceptions and experiences of gender in neurodivergent groups

Perceptions and experiences of relationships in neurodivergent groups

Eating disordered behaviour in autistic groups

Current project grants

2023-2025 UKRI/MRC – Enhancing Eating Disorder research networks: The Eating Disorders and Autism Collaborative - EDAC, (Co-Lead with Dr Fiona Duffy)
2023-2024 Wellcome Translational Fund - ‘Parent Seeks Help’: Co-design of preclinic triage tool for parents/carers to find the right care for
youth anxiety and depression (Co-App)

Past project grants

2021 - 2022 UKRI/ESRC "Road to recovery: Understanding the impact of COVID and recovery phases on children and young people with Intellectual Disabilities and their families' funded by the Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC), as part of UK Research & Innovation’s rapid response to Covid-19 (Lead)
2020 - 2021 Scottish Institute Policing Research, Small Grant Competition. Custody Suite Case Study (Co-App)
2019 - 2020 Scottish Institute Policing Research, Small Grant Competition. Local Approaches to Policing (Co-Lead with Dr Zara Brodie)
2018 - 2019 Experimental Psychological Society, Small Grants scheme, (Lead)
2017-ongoing Vice Principal Fund, Internal University Fund, University of West of Scotland, (Co-App)