Kinderuniversiteit samenzijn is fijn epic

Lecture Junior University: ‘It is very normal to feel alone sometimes’

Published: 29th November 2023 Last updated: 07th December 2023

During the second lecture of the new series of Junior University, social psychologist Tila Pronk captivated an audience of more than 550 children with her research on loneliness and exclusion. Students aged 9 to 12 were taught, among other things, how they can ensure that other children do not feel lonely or excluded.

With anticipation, the more than 550 children sat in Cube's largest hall, ready to listen to the lecture by scientist Tila Pronk. The topic of discussion? "Being together is wonderful!" Not an unfamiliar theme for the children. However, according to Tila, it is important to discuss this: "Children know that it is unpleasant to be excluded or to feel loneliness, but understanding exactly how that feels, what happens in your brain, how to cope with it, and especially how to ensure that everyone feels they belong is valuable to learn."

Innocent game?

Using a ball-throwing game, Tila demonstrated how exclusion, among others, is studied. Two rounds were played, each involving three children from the audience who didn't know each other. In the first round, all children received the same instructions: "You're going to play a ball-throwing game with two other players. Try to throw the ball to both players about the same number of times." In the second round, the situation changed: two out of the three players received the following instructions: "You're going to play a ball-throwing game with two other players. Throw the ball to both players the first two times equally. After that, only throw the ball to one player. Note: You don't throw the ball to the third player anymore! You also don't look at the third player. Just pretend that person is no longer there." The players followed the instructions, resulting in the third player reacting with surprise and visible disappointment. The audience also responded with boos to the unfair game.

Kinderuniversiteit samenzijn is fijn
Kinderuniversiteit samenzijn is fijn

By playing the game, both the players and the audience could experience what it's like to be excluded, although this was evidently not an unfamiliar feeling for many. When Tila asked if the children had ever felt excluded or lonely, almost all of them raised their green cards. Fortunately, Tila could reassure them: "It's very normal to feel lonely from time to time."

Exclusion is not just an unpleasant feeling, research shows that it is genuinely painful when you experience it

Good listeners

Afterward, Tila was visibly enthusiastic: "The lecture was truly fantastic. It exceeded my expectations. The hall was completely full, and the children had a lot of energy, but they still listened very well to my story. There were many questions from the audience, and I could also ask them many questions. It was truly fun." The children were also very curious about Tila's own experiences: "I received many surprising questions. The question that stuck with me the most was whether I have ever excluded my own children. I had to admit that I have done that too at times, which was quite confronting."

What Tila hopes the children take away from this lecture? "What I especially hope is that they take with them that exclusion really hurts. It's not just an unpleasant feeling, research shows that it is genuinely painful when you experience it. Additionally, I hope they take away the tips: How can you cope when you feel excluded yourself? How can you ensure that other children don't feel lonely or experience exclusion? These tips can be applied immediately in their daily lives."

I hope the children realize that they can also study here themselves later on

Curious about research

Tila considers it important to involve children in science: "Science is for everyone, not just for students and researchers at university. I believe it's important for children to get acquainted with the university and the process of conducting research. Through this, I hope to spark their curiosity so they can already consider: Is that something for me? What do you learn there? Science is significant and relevant for everyone. I hope they realize that they can also study here themselves later on."

View the lecture here:

Tila: "Everyone should watch this lecture. This theme is important and relevant for everyone: how do you deal with loneliness? What happens when you are excluded? Additionally, it's amazing to see the audience, observe how the children react to my questions, and simply experience the energy."

Tilburg University Junior 

The annual series of Junior University lectures (in Dutch) are organized by Tilburg University Junior. These lectures are among several events and programs Tilburg University Junior organizes for children aged 9 to 14. The aim of these activities is to introduce science and the university to children in a way that is fun and engaging. The next Junior University event is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon, February 28th (after school).