UW-Madison Department of Kinesiology - Julia Wilbarger

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Julia Wilbarger

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Julia Wilbarger

Occupational Therapy (OT)

3176 Medical Sciences Center  binoculars icon
1300 University Ave
Madison, WI 53706-1509
Office: 608/262-4923


Personal Biography

Dr. Wilbarger is an occupational therapist and a developmental psychologist with over 20 years of experience working with children with developmental disabilities. She is specialized in research and treatment of sensory processing disorders.


Ph D, Developmental Psychology, Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience
University of Denver
Denver, CO

MS, Occupational Therapy
Boston University
Boston, MA

BS, Psychology
University of California
Berkely, CA



Research Interests

The aim of my research is to understand the underlying neuropsychological processes that influence how people with neurodevelopmental disorders respond to the sensory and affective dimensions of the environment. My research incorporates the collection of both psychopysiological and neuropsychological data. A further area of interest is to develop means to bridge the gap between occupational therapy researchers and occupational therapy practioners to document the effects of treatment


  • Wilbarger, J.L., & Cook, D.B. (in press). Multisensory hypersensitivity in women with fibromyalgia: Implications for well-being and intervention. Archives of PM&R. 92, 653-656.
  • Wilbarger, J.L., Reed, C.L., & McIntosh, D.N. (2011). Implicit influences of affective postures on the perception of others: You can’t show me how I feel. Emotion..
    Abstract: Abstract This study examined how one’s own posture influences the perception of another’s posture in a task with implicit affective information. In two experiments, participants assumed or viewed a body posture and then compared that posture with a viewed posture. They were not told that postures varied in affective valence: positive, negative, neutral-abstract, or neutral-meaningful. Posture affect influenced both accuracy and response time measures of posture discrimination. Participants were slower and less accurate for targets that matched an assumed posture, but only for affective postures. This pattern did not hold for matching affectively neutral postures (meaningful or not), non-matching postures, or for purely visual comparisons. These results are consistent with both cognitive embodiment theories postulating that personal body posture influences the perception of other’s postures and emotional embodiment theories postulating sensorimotor and emotional simulation processes that create correspondences between one’s own and another’s emotional postures. Nonetheless, these findings differ from studies finding facilitation for explicit emotional judgments of affective congruence. People use different information depending on task requirements. The assumption of an affective posture may activate simulations of personal emotional experiences that may, in turn, serve to differentiate personal posture perception from ostensibly the same posture in another person.
  • Wilbarger, J.L., Gunnar, M., Schneider, M., & Pollak, S. (2010). Sensory Processing in Internationally-adopted, Post-institutionalized Children. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. 51(10), 1105-1114.
    Abstract: Background/Methods: Sensory processing capacities of 8-12 year old internationally-adopted (IA) children who experienced prolonged institutional care (>12 months with 75% of preadoption lives in institutional care) prior to adoption into family environments (PI) were compared to a group of IA children who were adopted early (< 8 months) predominantly from foster care with little or no institutional experience (EA/FC) and another group of non-adopted (NA) children raised by their birth parents in the United States. All children had estimated IQs within the normal range and did not evidence major neurodevelopmental disorders (e.g. cerebral palsy, fetal alcohol syndrome, Down’s syndrome). Sensory processing was evaluated with a commonly used parent report measure and a laboratory assessment. Results: Children who had experienced prolonged institutionalization showed higher levels of reactivity to sensation and displayed both more aversion and approach to sensory stimuli than the other groups. The comparison groups (EA/FC & NA) did not differ on any of the sensory processing measures. Conclusions: These results suggest that early institutional rearing which typically involves both sensory and social deprivation is associated with problems in sensory modulation capacities.
  • Wilbarger, J.L., & Hass, D. Exploring the relationship between executive functions and sensory processing. Manuscript in preparation.
    Abstract: This study examined the relationship between executive functions and sensory processing using two parent report measures: the Behavioral Rating Inventory of Executive Function (BRIEF) and the Sensory Processing Measure-Home Form (SPM). The parents of forty children completed both scales. Strong correlations were found between the BRIEF Global Executive Composite and the SPM Total Sensory, the Social Participation, and Planning and Ideas scales. The Social Participation and Planning and Ideas scale had the strongest relationship to the BRIEF. Moderate to low correlations were found between the BRIEF and the SPM scales representing individual sensory systems. Regression analysis indicated that two SPM factors, Social Participation and Planning and Ideas were the strongest predictors of BRIEF scores. While the results support a relationship between sensory processing capacity and executive functions, this relationship appears to be specific to discrete aspects of sensory processing; namely those related to Praxis.
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