Prof Stephanie van Goozen - MSc (doctorandus) Amsterdam PhD Amsterdam
I am a biological psychologist interested in developmental psychopathology. I am particularly interested in antisocial behaviour and study risk mechanisms underlying antisocial development from infancy onward. An important goal of my research is to better understand the mechanisms that are involved in the development of persistent antisocial behaviour so that we can ultimately develop more effective prevention and treatment programmes. There is a growing consensus that both child-specific factors (i.e., genetic, temperamental) and social factors (e.g., early social adversity) contribute to the development and maintenance of antisocial behaviour. My research focuses on those individual factors that explain or accentuate (mediate and/or moderate) risk to those who live with early social adversity. To that end I use an interdisciplinary research strategy that combines observational, cognitive-experimental, neuroendocrinological, psychophysiological, and fMRI/MRI methods.
I teach on the Level 5 (2nd year) Abnormal and Clinical Psychology module (PS2018), where I lecture on Eating Disorders and Personality Disorders. I also teach on the Level 6 (3rd year) module “Development of Psychopathology in Childhood and Adolescence” (PS3414), where I lecture on neurodevelopment in young children and adolescents.
Selected publications (2014 onwards)
Full list of publications
Research topics and related papers
My main interest has been the neurobiological basis of antisocial behaviour in children.
Children who display antisocial behaviour have a range of emotional and cognitive problems that help to explain the way they behave. They have a tendency to interpret and respond inappropriately to the social signals emitted by others and have problems with decision making and emotion regulation in emotionally arousing circumstances. Being able to regulate one’s emotions successfully is critical for rational decision-making and social adaptation, and a failure to do so is likely to lead to problems in forming or maintaining relationships.
In terms of emotional functioning we study the ability to recognise emotions in other people’s faces. Being able to recognize distress cues in others serves to inhibit antisocial behaviour. Fearful and sad expressions act as aversive stimuli, and as such play a key role in socialization processes. Antisocial individuals fail to process expressions of fear and sadness appropriately, resulting in ineffective socialization and a greater propensity to cause harm to others. At the moment we study whether we can improve emotion recognition ability in young offenders, and if so, whether this has a positive effect on their behaviour, specifically crime reduction.
Another area of our research is the stress response systems. We have studied the development of the stress system prenatally, examining amniotic fluid cortisol. However, most of our research focuses on stress responses in children with behavioural and emotional problems. Having a deficit in experiencing stress is particularly crucial in the development of antisocial behaviour. Neurobiological responses to stress act as a form of ‘warning signal’ to restrain ongoing behaviour in situations of psychological or physical danger. Children who fail to activate these systems are likely to behave in a more dis-inhibited fashion. This could arise from genetic factors or from exposure to uncontrollable stress or maltreatment in early childhood.
Our research shows that antisocial children’s appraisal of situations is not accompanied by contextually-appropriate patterns of emotional arousal and does not lead to activation of autonomic or endocrine stress response systems. Moreover, antisocial children who, as a result of their risky or impulsive behaviour, place themselves in threatening or dangerous situations gradually become further desensitized to stress due to habituation. This leads to a negative cycle in which the child becomes increasingly resistant to stress and is therefore likely to place him- or herself in increasingly threatening situations.
With Anita Thapar (Psych Med) and Kate Langley I study the development of aggression and Conduct Disorder in children with ADHD. We focus on a gene variant that affects a brain enzyme called COMT, and that has been found to be associated with antisocial behaviour in children with ADHD. Studies suggest that the COMT Val/Val genotype is associated with both executive function deficits and affective/emotional dysfunction. In our research we use lab-based tests to study cognitive and affective processing in children with ADHD. This research is important because it will lead to a better understanding of specific risk pathways using genetic and cognitive evidence and guide future new treatments and preventions.
We also study in our laboratory the development of aggressive behaviour up to the age of 3. In very young children the origin of antisocial behaviour is likely to be a combination of difficult temperament and a non-optimal environment in which ineffective socialization plays a key role. Individual differences in aggressiveness are clearly present before the age of 3. In the early years, emotional factors associated with aggressive outcomes include fearlessness in the face of novelty and challenge, and problems in regulating negative emotionality. Our group has shown that fearlessness in infancy predicts aggression two years later. We are also interested in how maternal prenatal and postnatal emotional state affects later aggressive behaviour. The affective quality of the parent-child relationship (harsh-rejecting vs. warm-responsive) can influence the sort of adult a child becomes. The role of parenting as a mechanism through which variation in children’s normal and abnormal development may be explained is an important issue in developmental psychobiology. In our research the question of how such influences become long lasting is addressed by examining the neurobiological underpinnings of stress and coping in infants. The prediction is that women who experience greater stress transfer this to their child via disruptions in the affective quality of the mother-infant relationship, which in turn has implications for children’s long-term behavioural well-being. In collaboration with colleagues at Leiden University (Netherlands) we carry out a randomised controlled trial in high-risk first pregnancies to study the effects of an early intervention (“Minding the baby’) on child neurodevelopment.
Dutch Science Foundation: Biomarkers of aggression in children (Swaab & Van Goozen; NWO reference 056-21-010; €450,000; period: 1-6-2010 to 1-6-2014).
Dutch Science Foundation: A good start: An early intervention to prevent the development of antisocial behaviour in infants (Swaab & Van Goozen; NWO reference 056-23-001): €860,000; period: 1-6-2010 to 1-6-2015).
Medical Research Council (MRC) grant: Early Prediction of Violence and the Disruptive Behaviour Disorders: Follow-up of the Cardiff Child Development Study (Hay, Van Goozen, Collishaw, Goodyer & Johansen); reference MR/J013366/1; £1,056,708; period 1-6-2012 to 30-11-2014).
Postgraduate research interests
My research interests are in factors affecting normal and abnormal development. To that end I study hormonal systems by focusing on hormones such as cortisol, DHEA/S, oestradiol, and testosterone; the psychophysiological response system via, among other measures, heart rate, vagal tone and skin conductance; the prefrontal cortex by studying abilities such as planning and inhibition; and by examining the ability to regulate emotions. I am interested in the involvement of these factors in normal and abnormal functioning, but especially in individual differences in the functioning of these systems under stress. So far, my studies have been conducted with pregnant women, infants, children and teenagers/young adults.
If you are interested in applying for a PhD, or for further information regarding my postgraduate research, please contact me directly (contact details available on the 'Overview' page), or submit a formal application here.
Jill Suurland (Leiden University, NL)
Jantien Schoorl (Leiden University, NL)
Jarla Pijper (Utrecht University, NL)
Hanneke Smaling (Leiden University, NL)
MSc Psychology (Experimental Psychology), University of Amsterdam, August 1988 (cum laude).
PhD (Experimental Psychology), University of Amsterdam, June 1994.
Winner of the “Best Paper Award 1993 – 1994” made by the International Society for Research on Aggression (ISRA).
Winner of the Rudolf Magnus Institute for Neurosciences mid-career Research Award, 1998.
Member of the Health Council of the Netherlands.
Elected council member of the International Society for Research on Aggression.
Member of the Editorial Advisory Board of the journal Review of Aggression and Violent Behavior.
2008-date: Professor, School of Psychology, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK.
2007-date: Visiting Professor of Developmental Neuroscience, Leiden University.
2004-2008: Reader, School of Psychology, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK.
2002-2003: Senior Research Associate, Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
1998-2002: Senior Research Fellow, Department of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, University Medical Centre Utrecht (tenured position).
1994-1997: Post-doctoral researcher, Department of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, University Medical Centre Utrecht (UMCU).