On September 12th professor Eveline Crone will receive the Spinozapremie – a grant of 2,5 million euro. What questions will she try to answer with the funds?
Receiving such a large sum of money – not designated for a specific research proposal, but to be spent on whatever line of research the laureate considers most important, does not happen everyday. ‘It is a great honor,’ the professor of neurocognitive developmental psychology reflects on her situation. ‘There are so many things I would like to study and now I get the opportunity to actually execute some of my ideas, but it is also quite overwhelming. Where to start?!’
She decided to choose two lines of research. One to enrich the longitudinal study she already set up – to gain a better understanding of the role temperament plays in determining the developmental path an adolescent embarks on. The other is a leap in unchartered territories – studying the brain activation patterns of entire families to figure out how prosocial behavior develops in the family context.
In the first research line the grant will allow Crone and her colleagues to measure the hormone levels and mood states of their participants over the course of a week, rather than performing just one measurement during the participant’s visit to the lab. ‘That way, we don’t only obtain a baseline measure but we’ll be able to see the responsiveness of emotional states and hormone levels during the activities of daily life – a valuable and reliable indication of temperament.’ This means Crone and her team can analyse how temperament might play a role in the establishment of a self image, for example.
‘Furthermore, we know puberty is a differentiating period for prosocial behavior or the care and consideration for others,’ Crone continues. Before puberty, kids are stable and generally prosocial. Post-puberty adolescents are also stable, but the extent to which they consider others vastly differs from one individual to the next. ‘I suspect that gaining better insight into temperament and into the interactions between temperament and environment, will help us understand how prosocial developmental takes shape.’
The other part of Crone’s research project also focuses on prosocial behavior, but here the emphasis is on the family context of the child. She plans to set up an experiment where neural activity of both the child and the parents and possible siblings is measured, while they play a game where they are involved in prosocial behavior, like donating money to each other. ‘I am curious to see to what extent neural activation patterns are similar between family members. And whether this synchronicity is influenced by the level of harmony within the family. Intuitively we might expect family harmony to determine synchronicity, but this type of neural activation study in a family context has never been done. Nor do we have other empirical evidence that this relationship exists so it really is an uncertain project. But I think I should consider the Spinoza grant as an encouragement to follow my intuition and take the risk to start an ambitious project that could really teach us something new.’
Text: Marieke Buijs