DR. SANDRA THIJSSEN
Assistant Professor of Developmental Psychopathology at Radboud University
Despite most parents' best intentions, too many children grow up in high stress family environments, characterized by, for example, harsh parental discipline or parental psychopathology. Using data from large representative cohorts, such as the Dutch Generation R Study or the American Adolescent Brain and Cognitive Development Study, I provide insights into the effects of such family environments on child brain development and mental health, and study what neurobiological factors affect parenting behaviors.
In my research, I use an evolutionary approach and view effects of harsh environments as adaptations rather than as damage. This view serves justice to children's resilience and adaptability, and sees children not merely as passive victims but as active agents trying to play the hand they were dealt.
In addition to my work on the effects of the family environment on child development, I am interested in the neurobiological background of externalizing behaviors, such as aggressive behavior or substance use. Using magnetic resonance neuroimaging, I try to understand what the brains of more aggressive individuals look like and how they function in comparison to less aggressive individuals. In the future, I hope to combine these interest in studying how the early family environment shapes the neural correlates of externalizing behaviors.