Ana Maria Portugal

I’m a Portuguese developmental neuroscientist who moved to Stockholm early in 2020 to join the DIVE Lab. I love science, babies, intersectional feminism, flowers & green houses, all crafts, and programming (but this is by no means a fixed list).

In the DIVE Lab, I’m working as a postdoctoral researcher in behaviour genetics in collaboration with Professor Angelica Ronald (head of the GEL Lab, Birkbeck). I’m using data collected as part of Babytwins to understand the etiological factors behind early brain and behavioural processes. I am interested in how individual (i.e. genetic susceptibilities) and environmental factors (e.g. training, society) influence behavioural and attention control early in life and beyond.


Before moving to Sweden, I lived in London for 5 years where I did my PhD at the Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development (aka the Birkbeck Babylab) about the associations of daily use of touchscreens devices, like tablets and smartphones, on the development of visual attention and executive function, under the supervision of Professor Tim J. Smith (Birkbeck) and Dr Rachael Bedford (King’s College London). My research has identified a bias in high-touchscreen-using toddlers towards salient features in a variety of gaze-contingent (eye-tracking based) visual tasks, which might decrease their ability to voluntarily control their attention. The real-world implications for this bias in environments that require executive function are also revealed by my PhD studies, where I found that the same high-touchscreen-using children struggle with cognitive flexibility.


Throughout my studies in London, I was very involved in public engagement activities, particularly on the topic of toddlers and touchscreens – I have been a researcher at the Science Museum London, a collaborator at a festival and science show at the Polka Theatre Wimbledon, an organizer of a craftivism workshop for the Bloomsbury Festival, and a volunteer for projects such as Native Science and Soapbox Science. I really hope to continue sharing and exchanging science with all audiences throughout my research career. At the moment, I’m training to be a parent coacher with BabyBrains so I can share evidence-based neuroscience with families.

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