I am full professor of Developmental Neuropsychology at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Faculty of Behavioral and Movement Sciences, where I am head of the department of Clinical, Neuro- and Developmental Psychology. I also hold a registration as clinical neuropsychologist (Dutch Health Register BIG). I have a visiting professorship at the Department of Psychosis Studies, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neurosciences, Kings’ College London. I obtained my PhD in 2000 at the Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience (Maastricht University, the Netherlands) and continued working at this institute before moving to the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in 2009.
My research focuses on the neural and behavioural mechanisms of social cognitive development in adolescence. In particular, I am interested in the mutual relationships between the social environment, social cognitive development and wellbeing. To this end, I have adapted game-theoretical approaches to study the neural and behavioural mechanisms of real-time social interactions in typical and atypical development (personal NWO VIDI grant; 2007-2012). Further, I developed and applied systematic approaches to study the relationship between cultural orientation and social-cognitive development (personal NWO VICI grant; 2012-2018). My recent work focuses on the interactions between social network position and structure and social-cognitive development and psychopathology in adolescence (ERC Consolidator grant; 2015-2021). Together with the SENSA team, we received the first Ammodo Science award for teams in Februari 2020 (2020-2025); the SENSA programme investigates the development of prosocial behavior in childhood and adolescence. In the international project ALIVE (Improving Adolescent mentaL health by reducing the Impact of poVErty, 2021-2026) funded by the Wellcome Trust, I lead the workpackage on Instrument Development. The aim of this project is to test the feasibility of a randomized controlled trial combining an economic and a self-regulation intervention to prevent mental health problems in adolescence who grow up in poverty. In the IMPROVA consortium funded by the EU Horizon Health program 2022 I am involved in the workpackage Determinants of mental health and wellbeing in adolescents. I am co-PI of the recently awarded Gravitation grant with the GUTS consortium (Growing Up Together in Society, PI Eveline Crone, 2022-2032) which investigates individual differences in developmental trajectories from early adolescence until young adulthood.
I have taught several courses in the bachelor and master program of Psychology. Currently I coordinate and teach the course Neuropsychiatry for Research Master students and the course Anxiety and Depression in Children and Adolescents in the Psycholoy Bachelor. In addition I give lectures in several courses in the bachelor and master program. I supervise about 10 research internships per year. In my teaching I aim to foster an open and critical attitude, so that students are prepared for lifelong learning with an open mind to other disciplines and professions.
Adolescence is a period of social change. Adolescents become increasingly concerned with the opinions of others, friendships with peers become more intense, and social relationships become more important. As a result, peer acceptance becomes a powerful motivator, and adolescents become more sensitive than adults to social exclusion, and ostracism. This increased social sensitivity has been linked to various forms of psychopathology.
With age, adolescents become increasingly adept at reading emotional cues as well as modulating emotional responses and taking other’s perspective. Improvements in social cognitive abilities, such as perspective-taking, allow adolescents to experience more complex emotions. Perspective-taking abilities during adolescence have also been related to interpersonal trust. The changes in social competence and social behavior during adolescence are paralleled by extensive development of the network known as the social brain.
In my presentation, I will give an overview of social-cognitive and brain development in adolescence, and how these are related to the risks and opportunities of this important developmental phase.