Chiara Bulgarelli

Leverhulme Trust Early Career Research Fellow

Research Interests

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

In March 2022, I was awarded an Early Career Fellowship from the Leverhulme Trust to study the development of empathy in toddlers. I am excited to have joined the first world’s ToddlerLab at Birkbeck, where I am using cutting-edge techniques, such as wearable fNIRS and virtual-reality, to assess empathic reactions in 3-to-5-year-olds. In Oct 2023, I was awarded the pump prime feasibility study funds from the Respect4Neurodevelopment network (funded by the EPSRC) to lead an interdisciplinary team to validate the used of the virtual-reality set up and wearable neuroimaging in the ToddlerLab for the study of neurodivergent children.



PhD Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience

Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, Birkbeck College, London

2015 - 2019

MSc Clinical Psychology

Vita-Salute San Raffaele University - Milan (Italy)

2011 - 2013

BSc Psychology Science

Università degli Studi di Parma - Parma (Italy)

2008 - 2011 


Research Posts

Jan. 2019 - Feb. 2022: Post-doctoral Research Associate in the BRIGHT Project

Medical Physics & Biomedical Engineering at UCL and Boston’s Children’s Hospital at Harvard Medical School.

Supervisors: Prof. Clare Elwell, Prof. Charles Nelson


Oct. 2018 - Jan. 2019: Wellcome Trust Institutional Strategic Post-doctoral Researcher

Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, Birkbeck, University of London.

Supervisors: Prof. Denis Mareschal, Prof. Victoria Southgate, Prof. Antonia Hamilton


Sept. 2014 - Aug. 2015: Research Assistant

Psychobiology and Clinical Psychiatry laboratory, Scientific Institute San-Raffaele Hospital and University, Milan (Italy).

Supervisors: Prof. Francesco Benedetti


Jan. 2014 - June 2014: Visiting Scholar

Brain and Creativity Institute, Dana and David Dornsife Cognitive Neuroscience Imaging Center, University of Southern California, Los Angeles (CA, USA).

Supervisors: Prof. Antonio Damasio, Dr. Jonas Kaplan


Sept. 2013 - Aug. 2014: Postgraduate Internship

Psychobiology and Clinical Psychiatry laboratory, Scientific Institute San Raffaele Hospital and University, Milan (Italy).

Supervisors: Prof. Francesco Benedetti


Selected Publications

Bulgarelli, C., Blasi, A., McCann, S., Milosavljevic, B., Ghillia, G., Mbye, E., ... & Eggebrecht, A. T. (2024). Growth in early infancy drives optimal brain functional connectivity which predicts cognitive flexibility in later childhood. bioRxiv, 2024-01.

Bulgarelli, C., Pinti, P., Aburumman, N., & Jones, E. J. (2023). Combining wearable fNIRS and immersive virtual reality to study preschoolers’ social development: a proof-of-principle study on preschoolers’ social preference. Oxford Open Neuroscience, kvad012.

Bulgarelli, C., & Jones, E. J. (2023). The typical and atypical development of empathy: How big is the gap from lab to field?. JCPP Advances, e12136.

Collins-Jones, L.H., Cooper, R.J., Bulgarelli, C., Blasi, A., Katus, L, … Elwell, C.E. and the BRIGHT Study Team. (2021) Longitudinal infant fNIRS channel-space analyses are robust to variability parameters at the group-level: an image reconstruction investigation. NeuroImage 237, 118068

Bulgarelli, C., Blasi, A., Pollonini, L., Lloyd-Fox, S., Pirazzoli, L., Perdue, K.L., Nelson, C.A., Elwell, C.E. Standardising an infant fNIRS analysis pipeline to investigate neurodevelopment in global health, in Biophotonics Congress: Biomedical Optics 2020 (Translational, Microscopy, OCT, OTS, BRAIN), OSA Technical Digest (Optical Society of America, 2020), paper BM2C.2.

Bulgarelli, C., de Klerk, C.C.J.M., Richards, J.E., Southgate, V., Hamilton, A., Blasi, A. The developmental trajectory of fronto‐temporoparietal connectivity as a proxy of the default mode network: a longitudinal fNIRS investigation. Human Brain Mapping. March 2020:hbm.24974. doi:10.1002/hbm.24974

Di Lorenzo R, Pirazzoli L, Blasi A, Bulgarelli, C., et al. (2019). Recommendations for motion correction of infant fNIRS data applicable to multiple data sets and acquisition systems. Neuroimage. 200(4):511-527.

Bulgarelli, C., Blasi, de Klerk, C., Richards, J.E, Hamilton, A. Southgate, V. (2019). Fronto-temporoparietal connectivity and self-awareness in 18-month-olds: A resting state fNIRS study, Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 100676.

de Klerk, C., Bulgarelli, C. Hamilton, A., Southgate, V., (2019). Selective facial mimicry of linguistic in-group over out-group members in preverbal infants. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 183, 33-47.

Di Lorenzo R, Pirazzoli L, Blasi A, Bulgarelli, C., et al. Recommendations for motion correction of infant fNIRS data applicable to multiple data sets and acquisition systems. Neuroimage. 2019;200(4):511-527.

Bulgarelli, C., Blasi, A., Arridge, S., Powell, S., Brigadoi, S., de Klerk, C., Southgate, V., Penny, W., Tak, S., Hamilton, A. (2018). Dynamic Causal Modelling on infant fNIRS data: a validation study on a simultaneously recorded fNIRS-fMRI dataset. NeuroImage. 175, 413-424.




Twitter: cbulgarelli01


New study in the Toddlerlab CAVE: