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Rubicon for psychologist Barbara Braams

Developmental psychologist Barbara Braams has moved to Harvard University to study social influences on adolescents’ decision making in risky and ambiguous situations. NWO awarded her a Rubicon grant for talented scientists who have recently obtained a PhD.

Braams: “We know that adolescents are most likely to take risks when they are together with their friends. With this grant I will investigate to which aspects of the social environment the increase in risk-taking is related.” 

Why youngsters take more risks

The new research project builds upon previous studies that were part of her thesis. As a PhD-student on the Brain Time project, Barbara investigated whether risk-taking in adolescence is related to age, puberty, hormones and personality. She discovered that the reward centre in the brain is more responsive around the age of 17. Seventeen-year-olds showed more activation in this region when they won money in a gambling task. In addition, Barbara already started to explore social influence in her PhD research. Participants were asked to gamble for themselves as well as for their best friend. Heightened activation in the reward centre was mainly visible when participants were playing for themselves. However, the difference between playing for oneself and playing for a friend was smaller in older participants.

After defending her thesis in November 2015, Barbara exchanged the Developmental and Educational Psychology unit at Leiden University for the lab of professor Leah Somerville at Harvard University. The NWO Rubicon grant enables her to work as a post doctoral researcher in this lab for two years and choose her own direction for further research.

The Rubicon grant of the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) is a personal grant that allows talented scientists to gain work experience at a renowned scientific institution abroad shortly after obtaining their PhD. The experience increases their chances of continuing their careers in science. NWO organizes three application rounds a year and awards about 60 Rubicon grants in total. The grants cover visits of 12 to 24 months.
NWO Rubicon

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