My PhD dissertation
We need our brain to do many complex processes when we do our everyday activities. For instance, when we have to perform a certain task, we have to monitor our steps carefully, meanwhile controlling our emotions and avoiding negative outcomes.
We monitor our performance, our brain is busy learning from mistakes. In some individuals, these processes work differently. For instance, when you are anxious, you might react overly sensitive to an error, where as if you are impulse, you might not even notice you made a mistake.
In my PhD, I investigate how the brain reacts to errors and how one's performance monitoring is related to psychological disorders and the development of these conditions (psychopathology). We often use the terms cognitive control and error processing when we are monitoring our performance. We also have fancy equipment to measure brain activity and display such as EEG (electroencephalogram) and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) while we perform these tasks.
To understand the role of cognitive control in psychopathology, I will investigate the development of performance on a cognitive task (Eriksen Flanker) in a large longitudinal sample of primary school children. If data allows it, I will examine possible associations with emerging emotional problems. My PhD dissertation also included two reviews on two error processing event-related potentials (ERP's, measured through EEG). In a meta-analysis, where I combine effects found from different studies, I found that both error-related negativity and error positivity is diminished in patients with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, addiction disorders and other externalizing disorders and problems. Knowing this, I discuss to what extent we can use these neurobiological markers in the clinical field in a narrative review, written for a special issue for a journal.
The last two chapters of my PhD dissertation will be two articles in which I describe how error processing has a role in two different samples. One sample is a longitudinal study, in which we investigate the association between error processing, infant behavioral inhibition and current social anxiety. We also look where in the brain is most active in this study. In the last chapter, I study error processing in a unique sample. Here, I look at mediating role of error processing in the relationship between early childhood adversity (e.g. child abuse) and later externalizing problem behavior in a young adult males.
The data used in this project originates from an innovative approach of combing different type of studies, including longitudinal designs such as Happy Child, Happy Adolescent (VU Amsterdam), and a sample of vulnerable young male adults with behavioral and legal problems (De Nieuwe Kans, VUmc, Amsterdam). My PhD is made possible by the Erasmus Initiatives: Vital Cities and Citizens which stimulates research that uses collaboration between the different disciplines, in my case neuro-clinical psychology and developmental-pedagogical sciences.
I do my PhD in the section Clinical Psychology of the Department of Psychology, Education and Child Studies at the Erasmus University Rotterdam, the Netherlands. My supervisors are Prof. Ingmar Franken, PhD., Prof. Pol van Lier, PhD, (promotors) Rianne Kok, PhD (co-promotor) and former supervisor was Susanne Koot, PhD. I consider several other close colleagues as my mentors in my PhD journey, such as Kim de Jong, PhD and Prof. Pauline Jansen, PhD.
But what is doing a PhD really? You do research, but it's like executing several complex projects. So you learn to do project management, critical thinking, presenting and lots of writing. But you do so many other things along the side, if you wish. You can teach, work on other project together with other parties/colleagues, etc. I will regularly write about what I do besides my PhD research in the blogs, see next window!