Our current generation of youth is unique in their social development: Growing up in the digital age, contemporary youth are hyperconnected with their peers as social interaction nowadays takes place both offline and online, without restrictions of time and place. This also brings new challenges for developing social relations and dealing with social rejection. While some socially rejected children suffer from widespread and persistent impairments in mental health, other children seem more resilient in dealing with social rejection. Why are some children better at dealing with social rejection than others? When across development do these individual differences emerge? And are individual differences in dealing with social rejection related to social experiences and well-being later in life?
These questions are the driving force behind the studies of SO-REBEL.
Leiden Consortium Individual Development
Michelle is a principal investigator in the longitudinal neuroimaging twin-study Leiden Consortium Individual Development (L-CID), were we aim to answer questions such as: How do genes and environment influence the way a child develops? What role does the brain play in this? How do parents influence the way children grow up? And how can we foster children’s development?
L-CID is a longitudinal study including same-sex monozygotic and dizygotic twins of 500 families, which allows us to unravel the effects of genetics and shared environment on the development of brain and behavior. The study includes two cohorts: an early childhood cohort (ECC), aged 3-5 at the first wave, and a middle childhood cohort (MCC), aged 7-9 at the first wave. The last two waves of the ECC and the first two waves of the MCC overlap, resulting in a cohort-sequential design covering development between 3-14 years. We specifically aim to get a better understanding of social competence and behavioral control using over 90 different measures per individual, using a multi-informant, multi-method, and multi-index approach.
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Social Network Aggression Task
Michelle has developed an innovative fMRI paradigm to measure aggression following social feedback: the Social Network Aggression Task (SNAT).
She examined this step-by-step: she first investigated the neural processes in adults in order to have a clear understanding before testing these processes in childhood. Secondly, she validated the task in seven-to-eleven-year-old children with three different samples: a pilot, a test, and a replication sample, which showed that the SNAT revealed robust and replicable results. Next, using the SNAT in a large sample of 500 children, she took an innovative approach by being the first to use behavioraul genetic (twin) modelling of task-based fMRI in young children. Ultimately, she used the validated and robust paradigm in a longitudinal design to show that neural development in childhood is a predictor for successful social development.
Longitudinal development of social competence
Using the SNAT, previous research showed individual differences in development of social competence (i.e., regulating behaviour following social rejection), but only captured two time points across 7-10-year-olds. To truly capture development and model trajectories we are currently including more timepoints to unravel the developmental complexities of dealing with social rejection across a decade of development (7-17-y.o).
Our working model suggests that childhood is a sensitive window for dealing with social rejection based on empirical (a) behavioral data and (b) functional brain activation.
Social media and the brain
Currently, it remains unclear how the intense social connectedness though social media affects ongoing brain development throughout childhood and adolescence. It has been suggested that adolescents heightened emotional sensitivity and protracted development of cognitive control may make them specifically reactive to social media. Our previous study showed differential developmental trajectories of brain maturation of adolescents with high and lows social media use; but showed no direct links to well-being. In our research, we want to unravel which adolescents might thrive by social media, and for which it might bring challenges.