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Out-of-control behaviour: why do youngsters sometimes go so far? View the vodcast by NeurolabNL

Earning some quick money by drug trafficking, committing an act of violence or almost collapsing under performance pressure. In the four-part NeurolabNL Young vodcast young people talk openly with neuroscientists about high-risk behaviour and performance pressure. How did they find their way back?

In the first episode, we hear from Bob, in his early twenties, who as a teenager dealt in drugs and now reflects on how it came to that. The second episode features Igor, and the turbulent years he spent in a juvenile detention centre. By talking frankly about his own story, he wants to help other young people make the right choice if they are under threat of taking the wrong path. 

Watch the first episode (Dutch)

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High-risk behaviour and brain development

In each episode, a young person with personal experience of how things can go wrong talks with a neuroscientist, and together they explain the out-of-control behaviour. Presenter David Elzinga leads the discussion. ‘We don’t judge, but rather we provide more insight into high-risk behaviour and brain development in young people,’ says psychologist Annelinde Vandenbroucke, who facilitated the vodcast – a filmed podcast. We want to let young people who have personal experience tell their story themselves: why they exhibit impulsive and out-of-control behaviour and how they now look back on it. Some young people only realise later that the reason they went to such extremes was to gain more status, or to feel accepted in a group.’ 

Students decided the issues and the format

The vodcast is funded from the NWA Science Communication grant that Vandenbroucke received in 2020 for the NeuroLabNL Young project. Her aim with this project is to make scientific knowledge about young people available to young people themselves and also explicitly involve them in communication about it. This is why she asked students from MBO Landstede and Leiden psychology students Madelief Uljee and Damian Jansen, youth ambassadors at NeurolabNL, among others, to help think about how best to reach their own target group. The students came up with the format and topics together. The first two episodes deal with transgressive behaviour and the third and fourth episodes with performance pressure, fear of failure and perfectionism.

‘People say: I went to the extreme to gain more status’

Handling performance pressure

‘I suffered from performance pressure myself,’ says Madelief Uljee, who appears in the third episode. ‘It started at secondary school: once I started to get high grades, I thought I had to keep on getting such good results. I became afraid of failing, and started to work ridiculously hard. How is her Psychology programme going now? ‘In the beginning, it still bothered me, but gradually I learned to cope better with this need to perform well and that it is also okay if I do a little less. This was partly thanks to my housemates who made sure I left University Library if I sat there for too long. I really like that I can turn this experience into something positive and reach other young people with it.’ 

Four neuroscientists have their say

In addition to the young people with direct personal experience, four neuroscientists also take part in the vodcast. They are Leiden psychologists Kiki Zanoli and Marieke Bos, as well as Amsterdam forensic experts Lucres Nauta-Jansen and Thimo van der Pol from the department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the VU Medical Center in Amsterdam. Vandenbroucke: ‘Drawing on their expertise, they talk about why it is sometimes difficult for young people to oversee all the risks and consequences, and how your identity is shaped during adolescence. This is partly because of brain development. The front part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex that is active in planning, controlling actions and thinking about your self-image, develops later than the part of the brain involved in emotions and reward.'

Annelinde Vandenbroucke is programme coordinator at NeurolabNL, a national project for brain research, cognition and behaviour.  

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