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Outline and vision of the specific research program and areas of expertise
The major focus of the UvA-DP program is on normal and deviant cognitive development. The research program on normal development covers the entire life-span (“from cradle to grave”: from infants and toddlers to the elementary school age to adolescence to senescence). The program on deviant development also covers much of the life-span, but focuses on a limited set of strongholds (detailed below). While these subprograms each have separate aims and foci, integration and mutual fertilization is ensured through the use of common research paradigms and methodologies as well as the participation and collaboration of researchers in both programs in various constellations.
This program has a three-fold focus.
· One cluster of related topics capitalizes on learning, decision-making, and cognitive control (including category learning, value-based decision-learning, risky decision-making, and the planning, selection, inhibition, and flexible coordination of action). This cluster is studied across the life span, in relation to neural maturation and deterioration.
· Another cluster of topics centers on the development of school and pre-school capabilities. This cluster studies fundamental mechanisms of cognitive development (prominently including language and mathematical abilities) as well as educational ramifications (prominently including the training and monitoring of such skills, and science learning).
· The program is traditionally characterized by a strong emphasis on methodological innovation that innervates the analysis approach entertained in the other clusters. Sophisticated methods are developed for the analysis of data arising in developmental psychology (including analysis of time series, reaction-time distributions, latent variables, neurophysiological data), and mathematical modeling of theories of neurocognitive development.
Assessment and intervention present two separate yet essentially integrated outlooks. While converging on largely the same clusters of abilities, with similar methodological accents, as the normal development program, some domains are accentuated:
· One domain is addiction, centering on adolescence, and capitalizing on the balance between impulsive (implicit) versus control (executive) processes. Assessment focuses on the etiology of dysfunction in these (and related) processes, and on the prediction of substance abuse and addictive behaviors. Novel interventions (such as re-training) are developed aiming to directly influence these processes, with promising results, in patients as well as young heavy drinkers.
· We focus on moderators and mediators of psychological interventions for children and adolescents with externalizing and internalizing problems, linking treatment outcome research with basic developmental psychopathology models to examine mechanisms of change. For instance, potential moderators are psychopathic traits and co-morbidity in aggressive boys, and working memory and reinforcement in ADHD. Innovative interventions are developed for ADHD, using computer- and internet technology, to improve executive functions.
· Additional domains of deviant development related to the cluster of decision-making and cognitive control are biological psychopathology (mild to severe retardation; autism spectrum disorder), and neuropsychiatric disorders among elderly (in particular Parkinson’s disease).
· A final domain pertains to the cluster of school-age capabilities (in particular reading- and other learning disabilities). Methodological innovations specific to deviant development include small-sample (including N=1) analysis, novel (neuro)psychological assessments, and techniques to assess treatment effectiveness.
Transversal and translational perspectives.
A number of prominent perspectives, cutting across normal and deviant development, distinguish UvA-DP from other DP departments.
· Rather than focusing on social or emotional development per se, UvA-DP studies environmental, social, affective, and motivational modulations of cognitive development across its subprograms. This allows us to maintain a coherent focus yet include (structurally or incidentally) those variables that prove indispensible for a deeper appreciation of the processes and mechanisms of normal and deviant cognitive development.
· UvA-DP is well-renowned, within NL and internationally, for its pioneering work and long-standing traditions involving a strong focus on a) the relation between cognitive development and brain maturation; b) the theoretical, mathematical/computational, and statistical modeling of (neuro-)cognitive development; and c) the development and application of innovative techniques for the statistical analysis of behavioral, neuropsychological, and neural developmental data.
· Across its normal/deviant subprograms, and across its experimental and analytical approaches, UvA-DP engages individual-differences techniques as starting points for analysis beyond traditional group analyses. Inter-individual variability within age/clinical groups, explored using various types of covariance-based and latent-class analyses, provides a basis for a deeper understanding of the nature of cognitive (dys)function, and allows a richer articulation of how and why individuals differ in the efficiency and maturation of these functions.
Rooted firmly in our long-standing experimental approach, UvA-DP increasingly endeavors to combine its efforts in fundamental research efforts with practice-oriented work. As prominent examples, we develop science-education programs for very young children, and we train science/practitioners at PhD level to put clinical developmental research on a more solid footing.