Our research group studies the development of psychopathology and how it can be prevented or treated. Key to our approach is understanding and changing the mechanisms that maintain problematic development, such as family interaction patterns, social information processing, and self-views, as well as moderating effects of child temperament and social contexts. To this end, we integrate experimental, longitudinal, and intervention studies.
This approach does not only incease our understanding of social development, but directly contributes to more effective (preventive) interventions that are increasingly used by children, parents, teachers, and clinicians, with demonstrated lasting benefits.
The main problems we study and intervene with are:
Aggressive behavior problems place a burden on children, their relatives, and society. Their prognosis is poor, with increased risk for future antisocial behavior and high costs to society. Aggressive behavior is predicted by specific social information-processing patterns (SIP) and interventions targeting these patterns are relatively effective.
For many children, the actual SIP processes leading up to aggression only occur when they are highly aroused and engaged. Thus, understanding aggressive behavior requires individual assessment of SIP in realistic, engaging, aggression-provoking situations. Likewise, effective treatment requires careful tailoring to children’s individual SIP, and practice in the very situations that provoke a child’s aggressive behavior in real life. Understandably, research has struggled with the issues of capturing individual differences in SIP in actual provocative situations and tailoring intervention to individual SIP of aggressive youth.
The past decade, we have started to overcome these issues in concert by assessing and manipulating SIP in engaging social conflict situations, for example in a recent publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. I adapted SIP theory to accommodate the effects of emotional engagement. We developed procedures to test SIP in staged peer conflicts, rigged online competitions, analyzed physiological processes and eye movements in SIP, and changed SIP using precisely targeted manipulations. This knowledge is currently applied and tested in widely implemented interventions.
Nonetheless, these advances are still but proxies to actual assessment of – and intervention with – individual children’s SIP as it unfolds in actual provocative social interactions. Aim of the present project is to assess and change SIP in actual social conflicts as they unfold. We will use interactive virtual reality exposure to aggression provoking social interactions to
The findings will provide a new framework to understand the differential development of aggressive behavior and will be directly implemented to prevent and treat behavior problems. The innovative assessment of processes implicated in aggression and their change through tailored manipulation may radically improve intervention.
Society faces large and persistent levels of educational inequality. Around the world, children from poor and working-class backgrounds are far more likely to underperform in school than children from middle-class or affluent backgrounds. Why do they underperform? And how can we reduce these inequalities? During my fellowship, I will use my expertise in self-view development to study the pressing problem of inequality. My research shows that, from a young age, children form views of themselves and their abilities. What role do these self-views play in the emergence and maintenance of inequality? This research is a first step in exploring this idea. It will combine methods from different disciplines (e.g., psychology, sociology, economics, and educational science).