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Professor Stephanie van Goozen MSc (doctorandus) Amsterdam PhD Amsterdam

Professor Stephanie van Goozen

MSc (doctorandus) Amsterdam PhD Amsterdam

Professor

School of Psychology

Email:
vangoozens@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone:
+44(0)29 2087 4630
Location:
Tower Building, 70 Park Place, Cardiff, CF10 3AT

Research summary

I am a biological psychologist  interested in developmental psychopathology. I am particularly  interested in antisocial behaviour and study risk mechanisms underlying  antisocial development from infancy onward. An important goal of my research is  to better understand the mechanisms that are involved in the development of  persistent antisocial behaviour so that we can ultimately develop more  effective prevention and treatment programmes. There is a growing consensus  that both child-specific factors (i.e., genetic, temperamental) and social  factors (e.g., early social adversity) contribute to the development and maintenance  of antisocial behaviour. My research focuses on those individual factors that  explain or accentuate (mediate and/or moderate) risk to those who live with  early social adversity. To that end I use an interdisciplinary research  strategy that combines observational, cognitive-experimental,  neuroendocrinological, psychophysiological, and fMRI/MRI methods.

Teaching summary

I teach on the Level 5 (2nd year) Abnormal and Clinical Psychology module (PS2018), where I lecture on Eating Disorders and Personality Disorders. I also teach on the Level 6 (3rd year) module “Development of Psychopathology in Childhood and Adolescence” (PS3414), where I lecture on neurodevelopment in young children and adolescents.

Undergraduate education

MSc Psychology (Experimental Psychology), University of Amsterdam, August 1988 (cum laude).

Postgraduate education

PhD (Experimental Psychology), University of Amsterdam, June 1994.

Honours and awards

Awards
Winner of the "Best Paper Award 1993 – 1994" made by the International Society for Research on Aggression (ISRA).

Winner of the Rudolf Magnus Institute for Neurosciences mid-career Research Award,  1998.

Professional memberships

External Committees

Member of the Health Council of the Netherlands.

Elected council member of the International Society for Research on Aggression.

Member of the Editorial Advisory Board of the journal Review of Aggression and Violent Behavior.

Academic positions

2008-date: Professor, School of Psychology, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK.

2007-date: Visiting Professor of Developmental Neuroscience, Leiden University.

2004-2008: Reader, School of Psychology, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK.

2002-2003: Senior Research Associate, Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK

1998-2002: Senior Research Fellow, Department of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, University Medical Centre Utrecht (tenured position).

1994-1997: Post-doctoral researcher, Department of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, University Medical Centre Utrecht (UMCU).

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I teach Abnormal Psychology on the Level 5 (2nd year) Health in Society module for Medical students. I also teach on the Level 6 (3rd year) module Development of Psychopathology and Criminality (PS3417).

Research topics and related papers

My main interest has been the  neurobiological basis of antisocial behaviour in children.

Children who  display antisocial behaviour have a range of emotional and cognitive problems  that help to explain the way they behave. They have a tendency to interpret and  respond inappropriately to the social signals emitted by others and have  problems with decision making and emotion regulation in emotionally arousing  circumstances. Being able to regulate one’s emotions successfully is critical  for rational decision-making and social adaptation, and a failure to do so is  likely to lead to problems in forming or maintaining relationships.

In terms of emotional functioning we study the  ability to recognise emotions in other people’s faces. Being able to recognize  distress cues in others serves to inhibit antisocial behaviour. Fearful and sad  expressions act as aversive stimuli, and as such play a key role in  socialization processes. Antisocial individuals fail to process expressions of  fear and sadness appropriately, resulting in ineffective socialization and a  greater propensity to cause harm to others. At the moment we study whether we  can improve emotion recognition ability in young offenders, and if so, whether  this has a positive effect on their behaviour, specifically crime reduction.

Another area of our research is the stress response  systems. We have studied the development of the stress system prenatally,  examining amniotic fluid cortisol. However, most of our research focuses on  stress responses in children with behavioural and emotional problems. Having a  deficit in experiencing stress is particularly crucial in the development of  antisocial behaviour. Neurobiological responses to stress act as a form of  'warning signal’ to restrain ongoing behaviour in situations of psychological  or physical danger. Children who fail to activate these systems are likely to  behave in a more dis-inhibited fashion. This could arise from genetic factors  or from exposure to uncontrollable stress or maltreatment in early childhood.

Our research shows that antisocial children’s appraisal of  situations is not accompanied by contextually-appropriate patterns of emotional  arousal and does not lead to activation of autonomic or endocrine stress  response systems. Moreover, antisocial children who, as a result of their risky  or impulsive behaviour, place themselves in threatening or dangerous situations  gradually become further desensitized to stress due to habituation. This leads  to a negative cycle in which the child becomes increasingly resistant to stress  and is therefore likely to place him- or herself in increasingly threatening  situations.

With Anita Thapar (Psych Med) and Kate Langley I study the  development of aggression and Conduct Disorder in children with ADHD. We focus  on a gene variant that affects a brain enzyme called COMT, and that has been  found to be associated with antisocial behaviour in children with ADHD. Studies  suggest that the COMT Val/Val genotype is associated with both executive  function deficits and affective/emotional dysfunction. In our research we use  lab-based tests to study cognitive and affective processing in children with  ADHD. This research is important because it will lead to a better understanding  of specific risk pathways using genetic and cognitive evidence and guide future  new treatments and preventions.

We also study in our laboratory the development of  aggressive behaviour up to the age of 3. In very young children the origin of  antisocial behaviour is likely to be a combination of difficult temperament and  a non-optimal environment in which ineffective socialization plays a key role.  Individual differences in aggressiveness are clearly present before the age of  3. In the early years, emotional factors associated with aggressive outcomes  include fearlessness in the face of novelty and challenge, and problems in  regulating negative emotionality. Our group has shown that fearlessness in  infancy predicts aggression two years later. We are also interested in how  maternal prenatal and postnatal emotional state affects later aggressive  behaviour. The affective quality of the parent-child relationship (harsh-rejecting  vs. warm-responsive) can influence the sort of adult a child becomes. The role  of parenting as a mechanism through which variation in children’s normal and  abnormal development may be explained is an important issue in developmental  psychobiology. In our research the question of how such influences become long  lasting is addressed by examining the neurobiological underpinnings of stress  and coping in infants. The prediction is that women who experience greater  stress transfer this to their child via disruptions in the affective quality of  the mother-infant relationship, which in turn has implications for children’s  long-term behavioural well-being. In collaboration with colleagues at Leiden  University (Netherlands) we carry out a randomised controlled trial in high-risk  first pregnancies to study the effects of an early intervention (“Minding the  baby’) on child neurodevelopment.

Funding

Dutch Science  Foundation: Biomarkers of aggression in children (Swaab & Van Goozen; NWO  reference 056-21-010; €450,000; period: 1-6-2010 to 1-6-2014).

Dutch Science  Foundation: A good start: An early intervention to prevent the development of  antisocial behaviour in infants (Swaab & Van Goozen; NWO reference  056-23-001): €860,000; period: 1-6-2010 to 1-6-2015).

Medical Research Council  (MRC) grant: Early  Prediction of Violence and the Disruptive Behaviour Disorders: Follow-up of the  Cardiff Child Development Study (Hay,  Van Goozen, Collishaw, Goodyer & Johansen); reference MR/J013366/1; £1,056,708; period 1-6-2012 to 30-11-2014).

Postgraduate research interests

My research interests are in factors affecting normal and abnormal   development. To that end I study hormonal systems by focusing on hormones such   as cortisol, DHEA/S, oestradiol, and testosterone; the psychophysiological   response system via, among other measures, heart rate, vagal tone and skin   conductance; the prefrontal cortex by studying abilities such as planning and   inhibition; and by examining the ability to regulate emotions. I am interested   in the involvement of these factors in normal and abnormal functioning, but   especially in individual differences in the functioning of these systems under   stress. So far, my studies have been conducted with pregnant women, infants,   children and teenagers/young adults.

If you are interested in applying for a PhD, or for further information  regarding my postgraduate research, please contact me directly (contact details available on the 'Overview' page), or submit a formal application here.

Current students

Kelly Hubble
Clare Northover
Katie Daughters (with Tony Manstead)
Britt Hallingberg (with Simon Moore – DENTL)

Jill Suurland (Leiden University, NL)
Jantien Schoorl (Leiden University, NL)
Jarla Pijper (Utrecht University, NL)
Hanneke Smaling (Leiden University, NL)