Robert Schultz

RAC Professor of Psychiatry
Director of the Center for Autism Research

BA, Psychology, University of Delaware;

Ph.D., Clinical Psychology, University of Texas, Austin

Postdoctoral Fellowship, Yale University

Office Location: 
Center for Autism Research, 3535 Market St, Suite 860
Research Interests: 
Specific Research Areas: 


Research Synopsis: 

I am the R.A.C. Endowed Professor of Professor of Psychology in the Departments of Pediatrics and Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania.   I work with students in Psychology and Neuroscience and am a member of both graduate programs.  I founded and direct the Center for Autism Research (CAR) at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).  My PhD and postdoctoral training were in clinical psychology and cognitive neuroscience, and I have an interest in behavioral genetics.  My autism research has received continuous funding from the NIH since 1995. Before coming to UPenn/CHOP in 2007 I was on the faculty of Yale University for more than 15 years.

My research focuses on autism and related childhood neuropsychiatric disorders, including studies of  Williams syndrome, Prader Willi syndrome, and 22q11.2 deletion and duplication syndromes in comparison to autism. My interest in autism also reflects a fundamental interest in social ability and disability.  I have pursued several different but complementary research strands over the past two decades including:

I.  Social Attention, Perception and Social Cognition in Autism and Developmental Disorders. Autism is characterized by core deficits in social communication. My lab has long studied processes that might underlie the readily observable impairments in social communication ability, as well as novel strategies for treating these deficits.  With the largest sample sizes published in the field to date, we have characterized deficits in both recognizing others by their face and accurately recognizing facial expressions, a core social communicate signal that affects social functioning. We have linked these perceptual deficits to differences in social attention using infrared eye tracking. Our work was the very first to use eye tracking to study social attention in autism and has helped guide the emergence of this subfield of autism research. We have done systematic studies comparing different paradigms and have presented at conferences new data examining which derived metrics from eye tracking are most reliable across the length of a typical clinical trial. Moreover, we have created computer gaming based interventions and were the first to show significant training effects for the face perception deficits in autism using this approach. Current work in the lab is focused on expanding the use of eye tracking to natural contexts and measuring the production of facial expressions, communicative gestures and language.

II.  Imaging Studies of Social Attention, Perception and Social Cognition. My lab was the first to explore the brain bases of face perception deficits in autism using fMRI, and published a seminal paper in 2000 that is one of the best-cited fMRI papers in the field.  We followed this work up with studies on how social perceptual cortices in the ventral temporal pathway might also contribute to higher order social cognitive computations.  We’ve also tested and found evidence for the role of subcortical inputs to early face recognition, including evidence for preconscious face perception.  Related to this is our research on defining the amygdala’s functional connections to social perceptual cortices and the architecture of neural systems governing social salience detection. More recently we have used methodological advances such as multivariate pattern recognition to understand the distributed representation of social percepts and their correlation to measures of autism symptoms and severity.

III. Social Motivation and Reward. Researchers in the early 1990s suggested that deficits in social attention and social engagement in autism were likely related to the value placed on social information (e.g. Mundy, Sigman). A number of labs have helped develop this model (e.g., Dawson, McPartland), which today is often referred to as the Social Motivation Theory of Autism.  As early as our first fMRI paper on face perception in 2000 we described a possible role of the reward system in the social deficits found in autism.  More recently we summarized our thinking and the literature on the role of reward deficits in a 2012 review on the social motivation theory of autism. In parallel we began using the incentive delay task pioneered for reward system research in addiction research and neuroeconomics to study the reward value of social information in typical individuals and autism.  We have found evidence for both reduced wanting of social information and reduced pleasure from engagement, and have begun to tease apart the different roles of the nucleus accumbens and ventral frontal cortices in these two processes. The social motivation/social reward model is potentially very powerful because it predicts a cascading effect of low social motivation and low social reward value across development and as such could be an early and enduring influence on the core social difficulties in autism. It also suggests that intervening to enhance the reward value of social engagement will have a broad impact on all of social development.

IV.  Early Brain and Behavioral Development in Autism. Autism and related developmental disabilities have their origins in early brain development.  Characterizing and understanding their earliest behavioral, neuropsychological and brain based differences fundamentally enhances our understanding of these disorders and facilitates strategies for early identification and treatment.  My lab is part of the Infant Brain Imaging Network (IBIS), a large multisite collaborative network focused on discovering the earliest manifestations of autism. IBIS is the first such endeavor involving detailed study of the brain with MRI.  We have made several seminal discoveries to date, showing that aberrant fiber track development in systems governing core aspects of social communication and behavioral regulation precede the emergence of the complete clinical manifestations of the disorder.  We have also shown how specific maturational lags in fiber development relate to specific features of autism in the first year of life. These findings are critical as they help clarify which systems and functions are likely most involved in complete clinical manifestation of autism that emerges later in development.

V.  The Essence of Autism. Autism is heterogeneous in its outward manifestations and in its underlying genetic architecture. My lab is very interested in understanding the “essence” of autism.  Does autism cohere as a categorical entity or is it better thought of as the tail end of one more quantitative dimensions? If we take a dimensional approach we would be accepting that there are no real boundaries between autism and typically developing children.  The dimensional approach to psychopathology is gaining increased traction in the field.  Given the heterogeneous nature of autism spanning multiple quantitative dimensions, effective research strategies often require “big data”.  My lab/Center has focused considerable effort over the last 5 years on efficient ways to acquire useful “big data” for clinical translational science. We are developing an integrated, web-based recruitment and data acquisition/management system that will be used across developmental disorders. All of our studies use centralized phenotyping services and core protocols, so as so as to build an increasingly large database. This allows for some very interesting data mining to understand the essence of autism, and it also provides a strong platform for new study recruitment.  

VI.  I also collaborate with others at CAR on studies of autism comorbidities, including sleep disturbance, anxiety, intellectual disability and ADHD.



Psychology and Neuroscience graduate groups


  • Leah Wang [Psychology Graduate Student]
  • Maya McNealis [Psychology Graduate Student]


Professor Robert Schultz will not be considering new graduate students for admission for Fall 2024.


Selected Publications: 

From more than 165 publications (see for a complete listing of publications).  Papers below are in a order that parallels my areas of research described above.

1.      Klin, A, Jones, W., Schultz, R., Volkmar, F., & Cohen, D.J.  Visual fixation patterns during viewing of naturalistic social situations as predictors of social competence in individuals with autism.  Archives of General Psychiatry, 2002: 59, 809-816.  PMID: 12215080.

2.      Wolf, J.M., Tanaka, J.W., Klaiman, C., Cockburn, J., Herlihy, L., Brown, C, South, M., McPartland, J., Kaiser, M.D., Phillips, R., & Schultz, R.T.  Specific impairment of face processing abilities in children with autism spectrum disorder using the Let’s Face It! skills battery.  Autism Research, 2008: 1(6), 329-340.  PMID: 19360688.

3.      Parish-Morris, J., Chevallier, C., Tonge, N., Letzen, J., Pandey, J., & Schultz, R.T. Visual attention to dynamic faces and objects is linked to face processing skills: A combined study of children with autism and controls.  Frontiers in Developmental Psychology. 2013 Apr: 4(185), doi: 10.3389/fpsyg. 2013.00185. PMID: 23596436.  PMCID: PMC362203

4.      Tanaka,J.W., Wolf, J.M., Klaiman, C., Koenig, K., Cockburn.J, Herlihy, L., Brown, C., Stahl,S., Kaiser, M.D., & Schultz, R.T. Using computerized games to teach face recognition skills to children with autism spectrum disorder: The Let's Face It! program. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 2010: 51(8), 944-952.  PMID: 20646129.

5.      Schultz, R.T., Gauthier, I., Klin A., Fulbright, R., Anderson, A., Volkmar, F., Skudlarski, P., Lacadie, C., Cohen, D.J., Gore, J.C.  Abnormal ventral temporal cortical activity during face discrimination among individuals with autism and Asperger syndrome.  Archives of General Psychiatry, 2000: 57(4), 331-340.  PMID: 10768694.

6.      Schultz, R.T., Grelotti, D.J., Klin, A., Kleinman, J., Van der Gaag, C., Marois, R. & Skudlarski, P.  The role of the fusiform face area in social cognition:  Implications for the pathobiology of autism. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Series B, 2003:358, 415-427.  PMID: 12639338

7.      Pasley, B.N., Mayes, L.C. & Schultz, R.T.   Subcortical discrimination of unperceived objects during binocular rivalry.  Neuron, 2004: 42(1), 163-172.  PMID: 15066273.

8.      Coutanche, M.N., Thompson-Schill, S.L., & Schultz, R.T.  Multi-voxel pattern analysis of fMRI data predicts clinical symptom severity.  Neuroimage, 2011: 57(1), 113-123. PMCID: PMC3105443.

9.      Chevallier, C., Kohls, G., Troiani, V., Brodkin, E.S.& Schultz, R.T.  The social motivation theory of Autism.  Trends in Cognitive Science, 2012, 16(4), 231-9. PMID: 22425667.  PMCID: PMC3329932.

10.  Kohls, G., Chevallier, C., Troiani, V., & Schultz, R.T.  Social ‘wanting’ dysfunction in autism: neurobiological underpinnings and treatment implications.  Journal of Neurodevelopmental Disorders, 2012, 4(7), 1-20. PMID: 22958468. PMCID: PMC3436671

11.  Kohls, G., Schulte-Ruther, M., Nehrkorn, B., Muller, K, Fink, GR, Kamp-Becker, I., Herpertz-Dahlmann, B., Schultz, R.T., & Konrad, K.  Reward system dysfunction in autism spectrum disorders.  Social Cognitive Affective Neuroscience, 2013: 8(5), 565-72. PMID: 22419119.  PMCID: PMC3682440

12.  Kohls, G., Perino, M.T., Taylor, J.M., Madva, E.N., Troiani, V., Price, E., Faja, S., Herrington, J.D., & Schultz, R.T. The nucleus accumbens is involved in both the pursuit of social reward and the avoidance of social punishment. Neuropsychologia, 2013: 51(11), 2062-9. PMID: 23911778. PMCID: PMC3799969.

13.  Chevallier, C., Parish-Morris, J., McVey, A., Rump, K., Sasson, N., Herrington, J., Schultz, R.T. Measuring social attention and motivation in Autism Spectrum Disorder using eye-tracking: Stimulus Type matters. Autism Research, June 10, 2015 epub ahead of print

14.  Kohls, G, Yerys, B., & Schultz R.T. Commentary. Striatal development in autism: repetitive behaviors and the reward circuitry. Biological Psychiatry, 2014 Sept;76:358– 359. PMID 25103541

15.  Wolff, J.J., Gu, H., Gerig, G., Elison, J.T., Gouttard, S., Styner, M., Botteron, K.N., Collins, L., Dager, S.R., Dawson, G., Estes, A.M., Evans, A., Hazlett, H.C., Kostopoulos, P., McKinstry, R.C., Paterson, S.J., Schultz, R.T., Zwaigenbaum, L., & Piven, J. for the IBIS Network. Differences in white matter fiber tract development present from 6 to 24 months in infants with Autism.  American Journal of Psychiatry, 2012: 169(6), 589-60.  PMID: 22362397.  PMCID: PMC3377782.

16.  Elison, J.T., Paterson, S.J., Wolff, J.J., Reznick, J.S., Sasson, N.J., Gu, H., Botteron, K.N., Dager, S.R., Estes, A.M., Evans, A.C. Gerig, G., Hazlett, H.C., Schultz, R.T., Styner, M., Zwaigenbaum, L., & Piven, J. for the IBIS Network. White matter microstructure and atypical visual orienting in month-olds at risk for autism. American Journal of Psychiatry, 2013: 170(8), 899-908. PMID: 23511344. PMCID: PMC3863364.

17.  Lewis, J. D., Evans, A. C. , Pruett, J. R. , Botteron, K., Zwaigenbaum, L., Estes, A., Gerig, G., Collins, L., Kostopoulos, P. , McKinstry, R., Dager, S. Paterson, S., Schultz, R.T., Styner, M., Hazlett, H., Piven, J. and the IBIS network. Network inefficiencies in autism spectrum disorder at 24 months. Translational Psychiatry, 2014 May, 6. (Published online). PMID: 24802306. PMCID: PMC4035719.

18.  Wolff, J.J., Gerig, G., Lewis, J.D., Soda, T., Styner, M.A., Vachet, C, Botteron, K.N., Elison, J.T., Dager, S.R., Estes, A.M., Hazlett, H.C., Schultz, R.T,. Zwaigenbaum, L. & Piven, J.  Altered corpus callosum morphology associated with autism over the first two years of life. Brain, 2014-02249.[Epub]. PMID: 25937563. PMCID: PMC4492413.

19.  Annette Estes, A. , Zwaigenbaum, L. Gu, H., St. John, T., Paterson, S., Elison, J.T., Hazlett, H., Botteron, K., Dager, S.R., Schultz, R.T., Kostopoulos, P., Evans, A., Dawson,  G., Eliason, J., Alvarez, S., Piven, J. & IBIS network. Behavioral, cognitive, and adaptive development in infants with autism spectrum disorder in the first 2 years of life. Neurodev Disord. 2015; 7(1): 24. PMCID: PMC4511527

20.  Levy, S.E., Mandell, D.S, & Schultz, R.T.  Autism.  Lancet,2009: 374(9701), 1627-38.  PMID: 19819542.  PMCID: PMC2863325.

21.  Dimitropoulos, A., Ho, A., Klaiman, C., Koenig, K.A., & Schultz, R.T. A comparison of behavior and emotional characteristics in children with Autism, Prader-Willi Syndrome, and Williams Syndrome.  Journal of Mental Health Research in Intellectual Disabilities, 2009: 2(3), 220-243.

22.  Maxwell, C.R., Parish-Morris, J., Hsin, O., Bush, J.C., Schultz, R.T. The Broad Autism Phenotype Predicts Child Functioning in Autism Spectrum Disorders. Journal of Neurodevelopmental Disorders, 2013:5[1]. PMID: 24053506. PMCID: PMC3848833.

23.  Wang, K., Zhang, H., Ma, D., Bucan, M., Glessner, J.T., Abrahams, B., Salyakina, D., Imielinski, M., Bradfield, J.P., Sleiman, P., Kim, C, Hou, C., Chiavacci1, R., Takahashi, N., Sakurai, T., Rappaport, E., Lajonchere, C., Munson, J., Estes, A., Korvatska, O., Piven, J., Sonnenblick, L.I., Alvarez Retuerto, A.I., Herman, E.I., Dong, H., Hutman, T., Sigman, M., Ozonoff, S., Klin, A., Owley, T., Sweeney, J.A., Brune, C.W., Cantor, R., Bernier, R., Gilbert, J.R., Cuccaro, M.L., McMahon, W.M., Miller, J., State, M.W., Wassink, T.H., Coon, H., Levy, S.E., Schultz, R.T., Nurnberger Jr., J.I., Haines, J.L., Sutcliffe, J.S., Cook, E. H., Minshew, N.J., Buxbaum, J.D., Dawson, G., Grant, S, Geschwind, D.H., Pericak-Vance, M., Schellenberg, G.D., &  Hakonarson, H.  Common genetic variants on 5p14.1 associate with autism spectrum disorders.  Nature, 2009: 459(7246), 528-33.  PMID: 19404256.  PMCID: PMC2943511.

24.  Tunc, B., Ghanbari, Y, Smith, A.R. Pandey, J. Browne, A., Schultz, R.T., Verma, R. PUNCH: Population Characterization of Heterogeneity. Neuroimage, 2014 Sep;98:50-60, PMID: 24799135

25.  Tunc, B, Parker, D., Varsah, Shankar, V, Schultz, RT, Verma, R. Towards a Quantified Network Portrait of a Population. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, 2015; 9123: 650661.

26.  Fein, D., Barton, M., Eigsti, I., Kelley, E., Naigles, L., Schultz, R.T., Stevens, M., Helt, M., Orinstein, A., Rosenthal, M., Troyb, E., & Tyson, K. (2013). Optimal outcome in individuals with a history of Autism.  Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 54(2), 195-205.  PMID: 23320807. PMCID: PMC3547539

27.  Schultz, R.T., Carter, A.S., Gladstone, M., Scahill, L., Leckman, J.F., Peterson, B., Zhang, H., Cohen, D.J., & Pauls, D. (1998). Visual-motor, visuoperceptual and fine motor functioning in children with Tourette syndrome. Neuropsychology, 12, 134-145.  PMID:  9460741.

28.  Bloch, M.H., Sukhodolsky, D.G, Dombrowski, P.A., Panza, K.E., Craiglow B.G., Landeros-Weisenberger, A., Leckman, J.F., Peterson, B.S., & Schultz, R.T. (2011). Poor fine-motor and visuospatial skills predict persistence of pediatric-onset obsessive-compulsive disorder into adulthood. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 52(9), 974-83. PMCID: PMC3625937.

29.  Kerns, C. M.Kendall, P.C., Berry, L., Souders, M. C., Franklin, M. E., Schultz, R. T., Miller, J., & Herrington, J. Traditional and atypical presentations of anxiety in youth with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorder, 2014 Nov: 44(11):2851-61. PMID: 24902932

30.  Kerns, C. M., Maddox, B.B., Kendall, P.C., Rump, K, Berry, L., Schultz, R. T., Souders, M. C., Bennett, A., Herrington, J. & Miller, J.  Brief measures of anxiety in non-treatment-seeking youth with autism spectrum disorder.  Autism, 2015 January: epub ahead of print.  PMID:25633222

31.  Orinstein, A., Tyson, K. E., Suh, J., Troyb, E., Helt, M., Rosenthal, M., Barton, M. L., Eigsti, I. M., Kelley, E., Naigles, L., Schultz, R. T., Stevens, M. C., & Fein, D. A. Psychiatric symptoms in youth with a history of autism and optimal outcome. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. July 9, 2015 epub. PMID: 26155764.

32.  Granader, Y., Wallace, G.L., Hardy, K.K., Yerys, B.E., Lawson, R.A., Rosenthal, M., Wills, M.C., Dixon, E., Pandey, J., Penna, R., Schultz, R.T., & Kenworthy, L. Characterizing the Factor Structure of Parent Reported Executive Function in Autism Spectrum Disorders: The Role of Cognitive Inflexibility.  Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorder, 2014, Dec;44(12):3056-62. PMID: 24972681

33.  Yerys, B., Antezana, L., Weinblatt, R., Jankowski, K.F., Strang, J., Vaidua, C.J., Schultz, R.T., Gaillard, W.D., Kenworthy, L. Neural correlates of set-shifting in children with autism, Autism Research, In press