Address book


Staff Structures


Back to the list


Professoressa Associata




+39 049 827 1276

Silvia Benavides Varela is an Associate Professor affiliated to the Department of Developmental and Social Psychology and to the Padova Neuroscience Center. She completed her training as biotechnology engineer with honors in Costa Rica (TEC) and obtained a PhD in Neuroscience from SISSA, Trieste. She then worked as a post doctoral researcher at the IRCSS San Camillo Hospital in Venice, and the Laboratoire Psychologie de la Perception (CNRS & Université Paris Descartes), in Paris, France.
The most important part of her research focused on developing new methods for unveiling the initial state of memory capacities in humans, the environmental factors that modulate learning, and the properties of the brain systems that support language and mathematic achievements across the life-span. She uses a range of neuroimaging techniques in combination with behavioral metrics and analyses, both in healthy and in clinical populations.
In recognition of her empirical contribution to the scientific research, her work has been entitled 2 Dissertation Awards (by International Conference for Infant Studies in 2012 & Italian Society of Psychology in 2013), honorable mention as outstanding young researcher (2013), and the best publication in the field of developmental psychology (Italian Society of Psychology in 2016).
She has been awarded a competitive collaborative grant from the Italian Ministry of Research (PRIN-2017), and individual grants from Padua University (MINI project within the STARS program 2020), Pfizer (2020), and the European Research Council (ERC-StrG IN-MIND).


Office hours

  • Monday from 10:30 to 12:30
    at Stanza 03-010 (Via Venezia 8, terzo piano)
    Si prega gentilmente di indicare in anticipo e tramite email la vostra intenzione di venire a ricevimento in modo da poter distribuire e impiegare al meglio il tempo a disposizione tra gli studenti interessati. L'accoglienza degli studenti potrebbe essere tenuta eccezionalmente tramite piattaforme Skype o Zoom (a seguito di un accordo sull'orario usando la posta elettronica).


- Benavides-Varela, S., Gómez. D.M., Macagno, F., Bion, R., Peretz, I., & Mehler, J. (2011). Memory in the neonate brain. PlosOne 6(11)
- Benavides-Varela, S., Hochmann, J.R., Macagno, F., Nespor, M., & Mehler, J. (2012). Newborns' Brain Activity Signals the Origin of Word Memories. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA.109 (44):17908-17913
- Gómez, D. M., Berent, I., Benavides-Varela, S., Bion, R. A., Cattarossi, L., Nespor, M., & Mehler, J. (2014). Language universals at birth. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(16), 5837-5841.
- Benavides-Varela, S. & Mehler, J. (2015). Verbal Positional Memory in 7-month-olds. Child Development. 86(1), 209-223.
- Benavides-Varela S., Burgio F., Meneghello F, De Marco M., Arcara G., Rigon J., Pilosio C., Butterworth B., Venneri A., Semenza C. (2015). Anatomical substrates and neurocognitive predictors of daily numerical abilities in Mild Cognitive Impairment. Cortex, 71, 58-67
- Benavides-Varela, S, Butterworth, B., Burgio, F., Arcara, G., Lucangeli, D., Semenza, C. (2016). Numerical activities and information learned at home link to the exact numeracy skills in 5 to 6 years-old children. Front. Psychol. 7:94. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00094
- Benavides-Varela, S., Passarini, L., Butterworth, B., Rolma, G., Burgio, F., Pitteri, M., Meneghello, F., Shallice, T., Semenza, C. (2016) Zero in the brain: a voxel-based lesion–symptom mapping study in right hemisphere damaged patients. Cortex, 77, 38-53.
- Zanini, C., Benavides-Varela, S., Lorusso, R., & Franzon, F. (2016). Mass is more: The conceiving of (un) countability and its encoding into language in 5-year-old-children. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 1-11.
- Galderisi, A., Brigadoi, S., Cutini, S., Moro, S. B., Lolli, E., Meconi, F., Benavides-Varela, S., Baraldi, E., Amodio, P., Cobelli, C., Trevisanuto, D. & Dell’Acqua, R. (2016). Long-term continuous monitoring of the preterm brain with diffuse optical tomography and electroencephalography: a technical note on cap manufacturing. Neurophotonics, 3(4), 045009-045009.
- Benavides-Varela, S., Piva, D., Burgio, F., Passarini, L., Rolma, G., Meneghello, F., & Semenza, C. (2017). Re-assessing acalculia: Distinguishing Spatial and purely Arithmetical deficits in right-hemisphere damaged patients. Cortex, 88, 151-164.
- Benavides-Varela, S., & Gervain, J. (2017). Learning word order at birth: A NIRS study. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience.
- Burgio, F., Benavides-Varela, S., Arcara, G., Trevisson, E., Frizziero, D., Clementi, M., & Semenza, C. (2017). Numerical activities of daily living in adults with neurofibromatosis type 1. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research.
- Arcara, G., Burgio, F., Benavides-Varela, S., Toffano, R., Gindri, P., Tonini, E., ... & Semenza, C. (2017). Numerical Activities of Daily Living–Financial (NADL-F): A tool for the assessment of financial capacities. Neuropsychological Rehabilitation, 1-23.
- Benavides-Varela, S., Siugzdaite, R., Gómez, D. M., Macagno, F., Cattarossi, L., & Mehler, J. (2017). Brain regions and functional interactions supporting early word recognition in the face of input variability. PNAS: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 114(29), 7588-7593.
- Semenza, C., Benavides-Varela, S. (2018). Reassessing Lateralisation in Calculation. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. DOI:10.1098/rstb.2017.0044

Thesis proposals

Thesis or Internship Proposal (intended for students in the previous psychology programs – not lauree abilitanti- or for volunteers interested in approaching research)

Topic: The Neural Foundations of Sound Symbolism in Prelinguistic Infants.

Required Skills: Native Italian speaker, good communicational skills, in possession of a car and driver’s license, interest in neuroimaging techniques.

Skills to be acquired: Recruitment of participants, data collection in young infants (1-3 months old), use of functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS).

Description of the project:
Sound symbolism can be described as the non-arbitrary relationship between speech sounds and meaning. Associations between nonwords such as “bubu” and “kiki” with round and angular shapes, respectively, have been found systematically in adults and toddlers, and even infants of 4 months. While the existence of sound symbolism is almost unanimously accepted, it is still unclear how sound symbolism is processed in the infant’s brain. The current study investigates the neural mechanisms of sound symbolism in one-to-three-month-old infants, while functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) will be used to measure brain activity.