»Children are born with enormous potential for development. It is our job to help them develop this potential – to empower them to seize opportunities and overcome difficulties.«

Dr. Babett Voigt

Developmental psychopathology

Developmental and clinical baby research

Our research focuses on typical and atypical development from infancy to school-age. Specifically, we investigate mechanisms and contextual factors influencing cognitive, social and emotional development. Our methods range from experimental behavioral observation, eye-tracking, physiological measures (e.g., heart rate, cortisol), EEG, to automatic motion capture.

Episodic foresight

Principal Investigator and Team:

Dr. Babett Voigt
Jessica Marks, M.Sc.

Funding

German Research Foundation (VO 2325/2-1)

Duration

36 months

Description

Episodic foresight describes the ability to imagine specific events of one’s personal future and to adapt current behavior accordingly. It supports planning, self-regulation, and decision-making. Hence, understanding its development during childhood is of critical importance. Existing research reports more frequent episodic foresight among older compared to younger preschool children. Evidence regarding the time of onset of episodic foresight is inconsistent. These two observations raise two key questions. (1) Which mechanisms may drive the differences between younger and older preschool children? The developmental framework of episodic foresight claims that executive functions explain higher performance in older compared to younger preschool children. The hot/ cool framework proposes that in contexts of motivational significance, ‘hot’ executive functions play a stronger role compared to motivational neutral situations. (2) Which contextual factors influence the emergence of episodic foresight (early vs. late) and which mechanisms underlie these context-dependent differences? Theoretical models suggest that motivation plays a critical role here, but diverge in their predictions how. The hot/ cool framework proposes a decelerated emergence of episodic foresight in motivational significant contexts compared to motivational neutral contexts. The dual competition model differentiates, only motivation arising from a current desire (that differs from future demands) protracts emergence, whereas motivation arising from the importance of a future event accelerates emergence. Developmental accounts on desire reasoning limit the decelerating influence of current desires to current desires that are mutually exclusive with future demands. So far, existing research is insufficient in the evaluation of the theoretical claims about the role of executive functions and motivation, partly because of methodological shortcomings. The current research program aims to close this gap and comprises of two experiments (Experiment 1: N = 272; Experiment 2: N = 272). In both experiments, ‘hot’ and ‘cool’ executive functions and episodic foresight is examined according to current guidelines. In both experiments, children’s motivation for the future episode (high, low) and children’s status of holding a current non-physiological desire are independently manipulated. The current desire is different but compatible with the upcoming desire (Experiment 1: compatible, neutral) or it is in conflict with fulfilling the upcoming desire (Experiment 2: conflict, neutral). Findings will have implications for the developmental framework ofepisodic foresight including possible specifications regarding the context-dependency of developmental mechanisms and developmental patterns. Findings about the role of executive functions and motivation provide important information how to design future studies and how to foster episodic foresight form early on.

SFB 1280 Early extinction and the developing brain

Principal Investigator and Team

Prof. Silvia Schneider
Prof. Sarah Weigelt
Dr. Carolin Konrad
Julie Poirier, M.Sc.

Collaborator

Dr. Jane Herbert

Funding

German Research Foundation (SFB 1280, Project A16)

Duration

July 2017 – June 2021

Description

Based on existing animal research, this translational project will examine qualitative and quantitative (neuro) developmental changes of extinction in human beings in two critical windows of time for major changes in the developing brain: infancy/early childhood (forgetting versus re-learning, maturation of the hippocampus) and adolescence (maturation of the prefrontal cortex). The developmental trajectories will be charted in the aversive as well as in the appetitive system to unravel similarities as well as differences between the two systems. In three studies we will study (1) 200 infants (6-36 months) and (2) 210 adolescents and young adults (12-22 years) using the same behavioral tasks to assess aversive and appetitive learning and extinction. In the third study, the 210 adolescents will take part in a predictive learning task implemented while undergoing neuroimaging. A multi-level approach investigating behavioral manifestations and physiological underpinnings (in infants/young children and adolescents) and neuronal mechanisms (using functional magnetic resonance imaging in adolescents) allows us to gain insights into the relationship of the development of the brain and changes in extinction. To our knowledge, the current project will be the first to provide a systematic account of extinction in infancy/early childhood and adolescence. Furthermore, it will be the first to translate findings in rodents on qualitative changes in extinction during infancy to humans. Understanding the developmental trajectories of extinction not only provides insight into the mechanisms underlying extinction, but has direct clinical implications in the field of clinical child and adolescent psychology, potentially translating windows of vulnerability into windows of opportunity (for timely interventions).