Tilburg University department Developmental Psychology

Research Department Developmental Psychology

Developmental psychology investigates psychosocial and cognitive changes during the entire lifespan (from childhood to old age) as well as their interaction with the environment. In addition to healthy development, research is also being conducted into developmental disorders and delinquent behavior. Hence, individual differences in development is central. Three pillars that reinforce and enrich each other (see below) represent the research lines of the department.

Department Developmental Psychology - research

Source: all papers of the assistant/associate/full professors of the Developmental Psychology department (2015 - 2020).

The research in our department focuses on several pillars:

Developmental Psychopathology during the Lifespan, Emotion Regulation and Forensic Psychology

Focus: We study developmental disorders and the development of psychiatric disorders throughout the lifespan and investigate how interventions can make a positive contribution to the reduction of psychiatric disorders, psychological problems and problematic behavior. Factors that are central to our research are ADHD, ASD, personality disorders, antisocial cognitions, antisocial behavior, psychopathy/psychopathic characteristics, (sexual) aggression and dysfunctional emotion and aggression regulation. We conduct research into problematic development and developmental trajectories that can give rise to maladaptive outcomes, such as aggression, addiction, victimization and problematic health. In our research, identity, personality traits, cognitions and implicit beliefs are important factors. For example, we investigate whether specific personality traits make someone more or less vulnerable or more or less resilient to aggression and/or victimization. We investigate associations between disorders and the influence of peers and (primary) caregivers on deviant behavior. We develop psychological tests and risk assessment instruments and perform psychometric research, such as research into the predictive validity of risk assessment instruments. In addition, we develop and evaluate short-term and long-term treatment programs for clinical populations. Much attention is given to innovative treatment methods, such as Virtual Reality and Neurofeedback.

Samples: Developmental psychopathology and emotion regulation is studied in clinical and forensic samples, inmates and in community samples. The lifespan focus is leading but we mainly focus on pupils, adolescents and adults.

Methods: Our methodological approach is multimethod (e.g., questionnaires, interviews, indirect and direct measures, physiological measurements, social networks). In our intervention research, we use longitudinal designs, RCTs, but also Single/Multiple Case Experimental Designs.

Contact person:  Prof. Dr. Stefan Bogaerts

Successful Lifespan Development - Successful Aging

Focus:  Development is a lifelong process that starts at conception and does not stop until death. It can be studied on biological, behavioral, psychosocial and contextual levels. Individuals develop differently across the lifespan and critical events and specific conditions at earlier periods of the lifespan often account for inter-individual differences in later stages of the lifespan.

Due to increasing life expectancy and low birth rates, many western societies are aging rapidly. Advancing age increases the risk for cognitive, physical and social challenges, which can have a negative impact on physical, mental and social health. Coping with these age-related challenges in an adaptive way can significantly improve individuals’ quality of life and contribute to aging proactively. We therefore aim at understanding which personal characteristics and behaviors (e.g., genetics, brain mechanisms, cognition, lifestyle, self-regulation, self-esteem, motivation, personality) as well as social relationships throughout an individual’s life can act as protective or risk factors for aging successfully.

We are additionally interested in how personal characteristics and behaviors develop across the entire lifespan, in response to developmental tasks and challenges in specific life phases. We specifically study dynamic interactions between personal characteristics and the environment, including life transitions (e.g., transitioning into and out of work, parenthood and grandparenthood) and social relationships. We also examine whether and how these personal characteristics and behaviors can be adjusted and influenced to the better.

Samples: In line with our lifespan approach, our study samples include individuals at different stages of the lifespan. This could be children or adolescents, younger adults as a reference group and in most cases older adults (meaning individuals aged 65 years and older). Our samples include mostly individuals who develop typically (i.e., not in a clinical way), or particularly “healthily” or “successfully”.

Methods: We work with population-based longitudinal data sets, intensive longitudinal data and experimental procedures. We use different methodological approaches (e.g., interviews, questionnaires, smart-phone-based assessments, cognitive experiments, genetic markers, structural and functional brain imaging).

Contact person:  Prof. Dr. Yvonne Brehmer

Social-Emotional Development in Youths

Focus: Adolescence and young adulthood are important periods in human development as they are marked by increasing autonomy, identity formation, and major transitions, such as educational transitions, the school-to-work transition, partner selection, and parenthood. However, many youths struggle in reaching these developmental milestones, which may lead to a variety of social-emotional problems, including depressive symptoms, low self-esteem, loneliness, aggression, and rule breaking (see also the pillar on psychopathology).

In this research line, we focus on questions related to: why do some youths struggle with these transitions, how do these struggles play out differently for youths in terms of social-emotional development, and how can we foster positive normative development as well as resilience in the face of adversity?

More specifically, we aim to study how social and contextual factors not only affect youth development, but also how youths shape their own context and future development (see also pillar on successful aging). Individual differences in emotions, personality, cognitions, and behaviors may drive many of the choices that youths make, whether it concerns the selection of friends, romantic partners, or education. In turn, individual differences also drive how youths respond to these choices. It is our goal to gain more insight into these individual differences to help young people navigate normative development and increase their resilience when facing challenges.

Samples: To address these questions we follow young individuals across both short (e.g., momentary, or on a daily to monthly basis) and long periods (e.g., several years). Our samples mostly include youths from the general population (e.g., high-school or university students), but we also include youths from (sub)clinical populations. Some examples of recent and currently ongoing projects are: SPACE II, What would my hero do?, GradLife

Methods: We aim to track, predict, and model youth development. We use various data analytical methods, such as longitudinal analyses, time series analyses, multilevel analyses, and social network analyses. In addition, we apply various methods to assess emotions, personality, social relationships, experiences and behavior by using Experience Sampling Methods [ESM] techniques (see also TESC), surveys, peer nominations – and reports, and narratives.

Contact person:  Dr. Jelle J. Sijtsema

Open science

Our department is committed to transparency and openness regarding our research activities. Many of our faculty members and students have adopted open science research practices such as open access to data and research materials, pre-registration/registration, and preprints. We strive to continue to embrace open science values and practices as we continue to grow!

Student assistants

Are you interested in assisting our team with their research? We are always looking for students to assist in our research projects. For more information, please contact us.