On October 26th, Simone Dobbelaar defended her dissertation entitled “Helping me, helping you. Behavioral and neural development of social competence from childhood to adolescence.”
Summary of the dissertation
Why do some children easily find their way in social situations and are satisfied with their social lives, while others experience more difficulties? One key component that may explain this is social competence: the ability to fulfill both own and other’s social goals, for example in social interactions. This thesis focused on individual differences in social competencedevelopment from childhood to adolescence, an important developmental period that is marked by an increase in social experiences and interactions. To understand individual differences in social competence development, I examined contextual, developmental, environmental and neurobiological influences on aggressive and prosocial responses to social evaluation. Moreover, I examined whether the co-occurrence of aggression and prosocial behavior may work as predictor for developmental outcomes such as wellbeing later in time.
The results of this thesis can be described in three main findings. First, findings showed that there were robust neural processes related to the processing of social feedback and subsequent aggression already in middle childhood. Additionally, this thesis revealed that the period between childhood and adolescence is important for the behavioral and neural development of inhibition of aggression following negative, neutral and positive social feedback. Aggression following social feedback decreased towards adolescence, but aggression following positive feedback decreased earlier in childhood than aggression following negative feedback. Moreover, the involvement of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, known for its role in executive functioning and inhibition, decreased over time. Finally, results indicated that the co-occurrence of aggression following rejection of oneself and prosocial behavior following observed rejection of others may possibly protect against externalizing behaviors and promote wellbeing. Together, this thesis highlights the importance of examining the interplay of developmental processes across social contexts to understand mental health outcomes later in adolescence.
Simone Dobbelaar will continue as a post-doc for the GUTS project. Within GUTS, she will focus on the role of peer networks and social dynamics in relation to neural processes related to self regulation.
Michelle Achterberg, Anna van Duijvenvoorde and Eveline Crone.
You can find an interview with Simone regarding her research in the article titled “Een beetje agressie helpt kinderen in hun sociale ontwikkeling, ontdekte Simone Dobbelaar tijdens haar promotie.” To access the interview, please follow this link: Interview with Simone Dobbelaar.
The brain is a fascinating organ that keeps developing over time, influenced by experiences and genes. Eveline Crone and Hilleke Hulshoff Pol both study the brain and its role in development. In their mirrored interview for popular science magazine New Scientist, Crone and Hulshoff Pol explain their most important findings so far, and what they ideally want to achieve with their research. They also share personal matters: Hulshoff Pol’s passion for sculpting and Crone’s work-life balance.
‘I study how young people can grow up in the best possible way; how their social worlds, such as parents, school, and friends, interact. My staff and I pay attention to a person’s environment and personal characteristics. We are particularly interested in how it is possible that people are sometimes focused on the well-being of others and at other times on their own well-being. How do you balance between these interests? We take into account all kinds of influences from the environment, such as the neighbourhood in which the child grows up, the role of the family, and that of friends. Together, these social worlds influence who the child is’, states Eveline Crone.
In return, Hilleke Hulshoff Pol explains: ‘The biggest breakthrough of our research is that we have proved that genes affect brain growth or shrinkage. We also have evidence that these changes affect how we function, how we develop, how we age, and possibly the development of psychiatric disorders.’
Eveline Crone is head of the L-CID study. Hilleke Hulshoff Pol is professor at Utrecht University and UMC Utrecht.
The full article will be published in New Scientist, as part of the magazine’s special issue about the Consortium on Individual Development. The article will appear in September 2023. Read a preview of the interview here.
Images: New Scientist
Developmental neuroscientist Eveline Crone, based at Erasmus University Rotterdam and Leiden University, has been awarded the Distinguished NIAS-Lorentz Fellowship 2023/24 for her research on the emerging of curiosity. During her fellowship, starting September 2023, she will unravel how changes in curiosity emerge, and which factors facilitate opportunities for curiosity in biological, individuals, social and societal domains.
The Distinguished NIAS-Lorentz Fellowship (DNLF) is set up by the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study (NIAS-KNAW) and the Lorentz Center to promote cutting edge interdisciplinary research. The Fellowship is awarded to a leading scientist working on research that, in essential ways, combines perspectives from the Humanities, Social Sciences, Natural Sciences, and Technological Sciences.
Eveline Crone has a specific interest in the developing human brains and its cognitive functions. Her work on brain imaging in young individuals is groundbreaking and has led to numerous scientific discoveries and recognitions. For example, Crone demonstrated that brain regions that are important for learning, show development changes during adolescence. She also recently found out that adolescents who report stable and warm friendships across adolescence show heightened activation in reward centers of the brain when gaining awards for their friends.
At the basic psychological level, curiosity has been of interest to psychologist for centuries, but little progress has been made in developing a unified theory of curiosity. Crone wants to develop and propose a new theory on emerging curiosity which argues that changes in the human brain during adolescence may reflect a transition period for curiosity. The development of curiosity is expected to be of importance for taking social responsibilities and to aid rapid adaption to different contexts. During her research, Crone will combine traditional cognitive science approaches with novel methods from industrial design engineering and cognitive and affective neuroscience literature.
Eveline Crone (Schiedam, 1975) studied developmental psychology at the University of Amsterdam and obtained her PhD cum laude in 2003. After she spent two years as a postdoctoral researcher at UC Davis, Crone came to Leiden University. In 2009 she was appointed professor in Neurocognitive Developmental Psychology at this university. In addition, Crone started as professor of Developmental Neuroscience in Society at the Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences in 2020.
Crone has been awarded several prestigious research grants, including a VENI, VIDI and VICI grant by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) and two grants by the European Research Council (ERC), namely a Starting Grant in 2010 and a Consolidator Grant in 2016. In September 2017, Eveline received the Spinoza award for her research on the adolescent brain. She is known to the general public for her book ‘Het puberende brein’ (The adolescent brain).
On April 6th, Ilse van de Groep defended her dissertation entitled “Resisting, Desisting or Persisting? Neural correlates of antisocial and psychopathic pathways in early adulthood.”
Dissertation in short:
Children who encounter the police early are at risk of developing persistent antisocial behavior later, but by no means all of them end up on the “wrong” path. However, it is unclear why and how possible differences in development occur, particularly in young adulthood (18-30 years). During this period, a lot changes in the social environment, giving young people the opportunity to stop displaying antisocial behavior. However, successful adaptation requires (self)knowledge and skills to balance constraints of the social environment while enabling you to achieve your personal goals. In this dissertation, I therefore examined whether young adults with and without a history of antisocial behavior process and use social information about themselves and others differently. Since there is much variation in antisocial behavior, I also examined individual differences in psychopathic traits. To better explain differences in behavior, I used functional MRI scans to examine which brain regions are involved in social information processing.
This led to some important discoveries. Young adults with persistent antisocial behavior show difficulty distinguishing between different types of social information and adjusting their behavior accordingly, whereas young adults who stopped displaying antisocial behavior are particularly good at adjusting their behavior. Young adults with higher levels of psychopathic traits also showed less brain activity when thinking about themselves and made more distinctions between themselves and others in a reward area of the brain while making choices, indicating that there are indeed differences in processing and using information about self and others in young adulthood.
Well done, Dr. van de Groep!!
Proud promotors: Eveline Crone, Arne Popma, Lucres Nauta-Jansen and Marieke Bos.
Our unique citizen science project ‘Alle Scholen Verzamelen: Wij vinden!’ is nominated for a Klokhuis science award! Together with children across the Netherlands Yara Toenders studied what children find important in their social environment. Do you find this important? Please vote for us: https://www.hetklokhuis.nl/dossier/153/klokhuis-wetenschapsprijs/798/wetenschapsprijs-2023
In our project, children themselves were researcher for a day! Around 3000 children from 76 primary schools across the Netherlands participated in the project about their social environment, the people surrounding them. They studied what they find important in their social environment, and whether their voice being heard by adults who influence their social environment. Since adults make many decisions that affect the lives of children, it is important to consider whether the voices of children are being heard.
This study was done in collaboration with the Science Communication Hubs. Klokhuis is an informative television show for children that enlightens children about the world around them.
If you would like to know more about the project, you can read about it here. Or watch the video about the project.
This week, our colleague Yara Toenders wrote a blogpost about youth perspective on performance pressure. Read the blog here.
This week, our colleague Mara van der Meulen wrote a blogpost about how to keep young kids happy and alert during sometimes long and boring data collection. Read it here.
This week, our colleague Simone Dobbelaar wrote a blogpost about the co-occurence of aggression and prosociality as forms of social responsivity across childhood. Read the blog here.
This week, our new colleague Nienke Steenks wrote a blogpost about performance pressure and how to make this discussable with adolescents and young adults, through YoungXperts. Read it here.
There is a new blogpost by Lina van Drunen about how to (or not?) combine a sports and scientific career. Please read her blog here.