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Nature, nurture and neural mechanisms of social emotion regulation in childhood

Michelle Achterberg
12 March 2020


Within her PhD research, Michelle Achterberg has done extensive research into the underlying mechanisms of social emotion regulation in childhood. The studies show that our brain tends to signal for socially relevant information, irrespective of whether this is positive or negative feedback. This network of "social signaling" is already present in childhood, which indicates that this can be seen as an important core social mechanism.

The results of this PhD thesis furthermore show that social rejection is often followed by reactive aggression and that controlling these emotions is related to brain activation in the dorso-lateral prefrontal cortex. The results are in line with previous neurological models, which emphasize the importance of top-down control of prefrontal brain regions over bottom-up processing of subcortical brain regions.

In addition to these models, Michelle's results show that the basis for the functional and structural architecture of subcortical prefrontal brain connectivity is already visible during childhood and that development within these networks is important for social emotion regulation.

Neuroscientific research in (young) children brings challenges and therefore several methodological considerations must be taken into account when studying brain development in children. Several of these are highlighted and discussed in detail in the dissertation. Despite these difficulties, studying brain development in children can provide important insights into a unique and promising development period.

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