Family environment and neural development
Most studies on early experiences focus on extreme adversities, such as institutionalized care or child abuse. In my research, I focus on normal variation in parenting and the larger familial context and examine how these experiences shape neural development. Specifically, I examine whether early stressful familial experiences accelerate neural development. This acceleration of neural development has adaptive properties, as it may help the child develop independence at an earlier age. As research has shown that adversity accelerates pubertal maturation, I examine whether puberty is a driver of accelerated neural development, and examine what brain regions and what properties of neural development are accelerated.
Neurobiological correlates of externalizing behavior
My PhD project examined associations between externalizing behavior and brain structure and function in school-age children. Because aberrant behavior cannot be understood without a thorough understanding of normative behavior, we examined externalizing behavior in a sample of incarcerated youth (with prof. dr. Kent Kiehl) , as well as in the general population (Generation R Study), but also examined prosocial behavior, often seen as the opposite of aggression. As a postdoc in the Luciana lab, I examined the longitudinal relationship between externalizing behavior and brain activation in adolescence.
Although often seen as a form of externalizing behavior, dishonesty has both antisocial and prosocial properties, and when displayed in moderation, even antisocial dishonest behavior is part of normative development. In our project on dishonesty we have shown that children who deceive occasionally are very similar to honest children, while children who deceive more consistently differ in general cognitive abilities, socioeconomic status and neural signature of deception.
I am currently setting up a study on the association between early familial experiences and the neural correlates of deceptive behaviors in young adults.
Neurobiology of parenting
As a postdoc in the lab of prof. dr. Marian Bakermans-Kranenburg, I have studies the neurobiology of fatherhood in first-time fathers (Father Trials). We examined their neural response to infant crying and explored how fathers' own caregiving experiences affected their neural signature. Unique about the Father Trials project is the focus on paternal protection, a parenting behavior not often studied.