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Carolien Rieffe honoured with a NWO grant for research project on loneliness

'Building 4 Belonging' is the title of Carolien Rieffe's honoured NWO proposal for research on loneliness. Psychologist Rieffe is especially proud of her super strong team. 'It is truly multidiciplinary research with a non-conventional approach.'

Dennis Reidsma (UTwente), Carolien Rieffe (Universiteit Leiden and UTwente), Robert Vermeiren (LUMC), Yung Ting Tsou (VU), Ivet Pieper (Stichting Alexander), Maria Hibsma (NVA), Ellen Starke (Samenwerkingsverband VO Amsterdam), Alexander Koutamanis (TU Delft)

That super strong team includes Mitra Baratchi and Dennis Reidsma (both Computer Science), Robert Vermeiren and Joanneke van der Nagel (both Child and Adolescent Psychiatry), Alexander Koutamanis (Architecture) and Yung-Ting Tsou and Maurice Crul (Developmental Psychology and Sociology). The project will start in spring 2024, will take 4.5 years and will receive €1,032,296 for Phase I.

Focus on students with autism and other pupils with support needs

Developmental psychologist Carolien Rieffe explains the strong focus on architecture and a large role for computer science. 'The aim is to make the mental well-being and social belonging of students at their high school measurable in real-time with smart watches, and then to improve it. Our focus is on students with autism and other students with support needs, although improvements in the social and physical space based on this new knowledge will also benefit many other students.

Carolien Riefffe: 'Autistic students are an important source of information for how to address the problem of loneliness in high schools.'

Yet, autistic students are an important source of information for how to address the problem of loneliness in high schools. In fact, the school environment is often experienced by many students as unpleasant. For example, hallways are too crowded, canteens too noisy. These problems in the physical and social environment can lead to poor  concentration, fatigue, and stress, or even school dropout, thus resulting in social isolation and loneliness.'

Research proposal

Our project tackles loneliness among students with special needs; which often is invisible. By developing a smart monitoring system, schools can measure individual loneliness in the context in which these feelings arise in realtime, and identify and examine subsequent intervention targets. Our unique co-design approach involves collaboration with experts, teachers, policymakers, and students (autistic and allistic) themselves. In co-design, we develop tools for schools to strengthen equity, alleviate loneliness and foster a sense of belonging. The outcomes of this project have the potential to bring transformative changes in education, health, and social integration, empowering students with special needs.

NWO is awarding five research projects in the NWA Loneliness research programme. More than five million euros will be shared between the projects, all of which will carry out scientifically innovative and relevant research with societal impact.
Five projects awarded in NWA Loneliness call

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