PhD Defence Bianca Westhoff on April 5th: Learning together: Behavioral, computational, and neural mechanisms underlying social learning in adolescence

On 5 April 2022, Bianca Westhoff will defend her PhD dissertation, entitled: ‘Learning together: Behavioral, computational, and neural mechanisms underlying social learning in adolescence’.

The overarching goal of this thesis was to examine the behavioral, computational, and neural mechanisms underlying social learning in adolescence. The first aim was to examine developmental patterns across adolescence of two forms of social learning: (1) learning about other people, specifically, whether they are (un)cooperative and (un)trustworthy, and (2) learning for other people (prosocial learning) to know what actions may benefit or help others. A second aim was to examine underlying mechanisms and factors that account for age-related and individual  differences in social learning.

The first chapter’s findings point to early-mid adolescence as a developmental window for a rapid change in adaptive social learning, with improvements especially in the cooperative domain.

In the second chapter, the results point to adolescence as a period for developing adaptive social trust learning abilities, which become increasingly flexible from mid-adolescence onward. Yet, one’s family environment may impact adolescent’s adaptive social learning abilities.

These findings in the third chapter point to early-to-mid adolescence as a developmental phase in which adolescents become more open-minded about possible individual differences in other people’s trustworthiness, which allows them to flexibly learn that some people are highly trustworthy while others are not.

The findings from the last chapter show that prosocial learning abilities improve early-to-mid adolescence on both a behavioral, computational, and neural level. The various indices provide a complementary perspective showing that especially learning for others undergoes developmental transitions, consistent with the conclusions of the previous chapters showing that age-related differences are most pronounced for other-oriented behaviors.

Proud promotors: Eveline Crone & Anna van Duijvenvoorde.



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