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Department of Psychology


Dr Deborah Riby, PhD Psychology

Associate Professor (Reader) in the Department of Psychology
Telephone: +44 (0) 191 33 43247
Room number: L60

(email at


I joined the Department of Psychology at Durham University as a Senior Lecturer in July 2013 and was promoted to Reader in October 2016. From 2013-2016 I was course director for the MSc Developmental Psychopathology and MA Research Methods (Developmental Psychology) courses, as well as research group leader for Developmental Science.

In 2016 I took over as Director of Research for the Department of Psychology. 

Prior to my time in Durham, I was a Lecturer in the School of Psychology, Newcastle University (2008-2013). I completed my PhD in 2007 at Stirling University, followed by a one-year postdoctoral research position at the same institution.

Research Interests

In 2014 I was awarded the Margaret Donaldson Prize by the British Psychological Society (Developmental Psychology Section) for recognition of my cross-syndrome research on social perception / social cognition in developmental disorders and my "contribution to theory / innovative methodology".

I am a developmental psychologist and my research focuses on syndrome-specific signatures of atypical development in neurodevelopmental disorders. My primary research area is social perception and social cognition in Williams syndrome (WS) and Autism (ASD). Within this area I have used a variety of eye tracking and innovative experimental tasks to explore areas of relative proficiency or deficit (exploring syndrome-specific signatures or cross-syndrome overlaps and having theoretical implications). I have used face perception and the interpretion of social cues from faces as a method of exploring communication strategies and social behaviours / tendancies associated with these disorders. I have more recently become interested in issues of social vulnerability associated with Williams syndrome - such as increased approach to unfamiliar people and awareness of stranger danger. Therefore the work that I conduct has both theoretical and applied relevance.

Linking to the above area of interest I have recently been focusing on the links between social behaviours and other facets of these neurodevelopmental disorders, such as anxiety, sensory processing and executive functions. For example, we are have recently secured funding for a feasibility of a new CBT-based anxiety intervention targeting the needs of individuals with WS. A large focus of my recent research has also been on supporting families of individuals with WS in relation to anxiety - this has informed a REF case study that I am leading and has allowed me to secure a number of impact grants.

Linking the two aforementioned areas of research activity I am particularly interested in understanding the needs of the 'whole' individual and how we need to encompass areas of cognition, behaviour and psychopathology in providing support and interventions for individuals with these disorders of development. Understanding the 'whole' also extends to understanding the family system and in recently funded research through the Baily Thomas Charitable Foundation we are also working with siblings and parents (started in 2017 for two years).

International Collaboration

  • Dr Masahiro Hirai, Jichi Medical University, Tochigi, Japan
  • Dr Kosuke Asada, Tokyo University, Japan
  • Dr Melanie Porter, Macquarie University, Australia
  • Dr Mikle South, Brigham Young University, USA
  • Professor Kim Cornish, Monash University, Australia

Indicators of Esteem

  • 2017: Advisory Panel: Williams Syndrome Foundation Professional Advisory Panel member (Registered Charity No.281014) since 2014-ongoing
  • 2017: Editorial Board Membership: Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders (2013-present)
  • 2017: Honorary Appointment: Associate Lecturer, Institute of Neuroscience, Newcastle University, UK (2013-ongoing)
  • 2016: Academic Advisory Board: Journal of Intellectual Disability Research advisory board since 2016
  • 2016: Keynote Address: European Conference on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, Lille, France
  • 2016: Special Edition Journal Editor: Journal of Intellectual Disability Research ‘Williams syndrome’
  • 2015: Associate Editor:

    Research in Developmental Disabilities (2015-16)

  • 2015: Keynote Address: British Psychological Society, North East Branch Annual Conference, York
  • 2014: Award Winner: British Psychological Society Margaret Donaldson Award for ‘outstanding contribution to Developmental Psychology’ within 10 years of PhD completion
  • 2014: External Examiner: MSc Atypical Child Development, Queens University Belfast (2014-2017)
  • 2014: External Examining of PhD thesis: Several viva examinations for PhD and DClinPsy candidates, including at the Universities of Aberdeen, Sheffield, Institute of Education, UCL, Birmingham, Lancaster, and internationally for both the University of Western Australia and Macquarie University (ongoing)
  • 2014: Keynote Address: Japanese Society for Developmental Psychology Annual Conference, Tokyo
  • 2014: Keynote Address: Kaynote address for Annual Conference British Psychological Society Developmental Section (Amsterdam)
  • 2013: Honorary Appointment: Honorary Senior Lecturer, Dept. of Psychology & Psychiatry, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia (2012-2019)
  • 2011: Conference Organiser: British Psychological Society Developmental Section Annual Conference

Research Groups

Research Interests

  • Neurodevelopmental disorders impacting upon cognition, behaviour & psychopathology
  • Williams syndrome (esp social attention & social functioning, anxiety, sensory processing)
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (especially social functioning, anxiety, sensory processing)
  • Social Perception & social cognition in typical development

Teaching Areas

  • MA Research Methods (Developmental Psychology)
  • MSc Developmental Psychopathology

Selected Publications

Chapter in book

  • Riby, D M, Bruce, V & Jawaid, A (2011). Everyone’s friend? The case of Williams syndrome. In Pathological Altruism. Oakley, B., Knafo, A., Madhavan, G. & Wilson, D. S. Ocford University Press.
  • Riby, D M (2011). Face Processing and Social Interactions. In Developmental Disabilities across the Lifespan. Farran, E. & Karmiloff-Smith, A. Oxford University Press.
  • Riby, D M & Porter, M (2010). Williams syndrome. In ). Developmental Disorders & Interventions: Advances in Child Development and Behavior. Holmes, J. Academic Press.
  • Brock, J, Einav, S & Riby, D M (2008). The other end of the spectrum? Social cognition in Williams syndrome. In Social cognition: Development, Neuroscience and Autism. Reid, V. & Striano, T Blackwell.

Edited book

Journal Article

Show all publications

Selected Grants

  • 2017: The Role of Family Systems in Psychological Outcomes for Children With Rare Genetic Syndromes Associated With Intellectual Disability (£39286.00 from Baily Thomas Charitable Fund)
  • 2015: An Investigation into music perception in children with Williams Syndrome (£7737.00 from Baily Thomas Charitable Fund)
  • 2015: Increasing Awareness of Anxiety in Williams syndrome - A Support Package for Teachers (£5661.00 from Autours des Williams)
  • 2014: ‘Consumption of energy drinks by young people: pilot study’ The Children’s Foundation, £14,862
  • 2013: Anxiety in Williams Syndrome (£11269.00 from Williams Syndrome Foundation)
  • 2013: Face Laterality in William Syndrome (£2500.00 from Experimental Psychology Society)
  • 2013: Using Eye Tracking to Explore Visual Distraction in the Classroom for Pupils with Autism (£9994.00 from The British Academy)
  • 2012: 'Sound Experiences of Individuals with WS’ Williams syndrome Foundation (£2,700)
  • 2012: Neuro-developmental disorders seminar series BPS Seminar Series Grant (£3,000)
  • 2011: 'Can individuals with WS make social evaluations from faces’ British Academy (£7,468)
  • 2010: 'The role of attention mechanisms in the gaze behaviour of individuals with WS' Nuffield Foundation (£7,500)
  • 2008: ‘Cognitive load in face-to-face interactions: Evidence from neuro-developmental disorders’ ESRC (£282,000)
  • 2007: 'Applying Eye Tracking to the Exploration of Social Functioning in Autism and WS’. ESRC (£80,712)