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Dr. Elisabeth Dykens    

Professor of Psychology & Human Development; Director and Annette Schaffer Eskind Professor of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center

Elisabeth Dykens, Ph.D. is Director of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development, Co-Director of the University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities, and Professor of Psychology and Human Development, Psychiatry, and Pediatrics. She received a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Kansas.

Dr. Dykens’ research focuses on both the mental health challenges and unique strengths of persons with genetic syndromes. She is examining compulsive behaviors and overeating in Prader-Willi syndrome; heightened anxiety in Williams syndrome; increased withdrawal and depression in Down syndrome; and both stressful and positive outcomes for families of these individuals. At the same time, she is studying the varied abilities associated with these syndromes, including unusual visual-spatial skills in a subset of persons with Prader-Willi syndrome, marked musical interests and talents in many with Williams syndrome, and increased sociability in people with Down syndrome. These studies shed light on relationships between genes, brain and behavior; as well as provide new insights into ameliorating mental health symptoms while also promoting strengths, well-being, and positive outcomes.

Dr. Dykens has authored over 220 publications, including 3 books, and serves on the Research and Evaluation Committee, Special Olympics International, and the Scientific Advisory Board, among others.


Music Cognition Lab is dedicated to the scientific study of how music affects the brain and behavior
Vanderbilt is a natural environment for the music lab, and not just because of its location in Music City. Lense was drawn to graduate school at Vanderbilt by the opportunity to work under the tutelage of Elisabeth Dykens, professor of psychology and human development, pediatrics, and psychiatry and behavioral sciences. Among other areas, Dykens has expertise in the study of Williams syndrome, a rare genetic neurodevelopmental condition often associated with special musical abilities.
Dr. Elisabeth Dykens Receives Rare Impact Award From National Organization for Rare Disorders
An FPWR grantee, Dykens developed the Dykens Hyperphagia Questionnaire on food-seeking behaviors, which has become the gold standard for measuring outcomes in Prader-Willi syndrome clinical trials. Dr. Dykens is a leading researcher of mental health issues in Prader-Willi syndrome and has focused her research on issues of obsessive-compulsive behaviors, anxiety and social challenges that people with Prader-Willi syndrome (PWS) often struggle with.

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