Catrin Finkenauer

A number of new professors have recently been appointed to the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences (SBS). Who are they, and what will they be doing here? Professor Finkenauer has at times dreamt of running a gift shop.

Catrin Finkenauer has been working as professor of Youth Studies at the Department of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences since April 2016. In addition to her professorship, another role she fulfils is that of joint project leader of the Academic Work Centre on Child Abuse. In recent years she worked as professor at VU Amsterdam.

How did you arrive at the FSW?

"I already knew, or still knew a lot of people. So it feels familiar and new at the same time. What really strikes me is how friendly everyone is here. It starts in the morning in the car park and when I walk past the receptionist. I think it's great, your day starts in a completely different way if people give you the feeling that they have seen you."

What does your research concern?

"My research involves studying relationships, which isn't such a popular subject Europe ­– except where parent-child relationships are concerned - but less attention is paid to intimate relationships and friendships among young adults. I'm particularly interested in the question about how people can bring out the best and the worst in each other. Many people think that love and motivation are enough to maintain good relationships between people, but it's hard work. What you also need is self-control: you need to put aside your own interests and avoid escalation. Our research shows that self-control is linked to trust; trust constitutes the basis for maintaining relationships. That's a considerable challenge for many people. This is also evident in child abuse cases. Apart from that I'm conducting research on interventions during messy divorce cases, such as Kinderen uit de knel ('No Kids in the Middle'), and Villa Pinedo. The latter website is a forum for children whose parents are divorced, where we look at how children, adolescents and young adults can help each other in processing painful experiences."

Which of your research projects had the greatest social impact?

"I'm working on a large-scale project which involves studying to what extent the circumstances someone is facing, have an influence on self-control. You need energy and resources for self-control; when they've been exhausted, you're less appreciative, less patient and more aggressive. That's why a lot of chaos, financial worries, stress and mutual distrust is common in families where domestic violence occurs. Abused women stay in a relationship because they have no education, work or a driving licence, not because they love their abuser. People can be helped by improving their circumstances. Even though this is a research project of considerable social relevance, this knowledge has not yet been sufficiently translated into practice. I'm endeavouring to achieve this through education. Besides enthusiasm for relationships, it is important that students learn to take circumstances into account; one has to study a person in interaction with his or her context. There is no point in unleashing therapy on someone if  the cause of their loss of self-control is inherent in their environment."

Why did you become a professor at Utrecht University?

"The Department of Interdisciplinary and Social Sciences is highly dynamic and the research is linked to current issues. I'm affiliated with the strategic theme of Dynamics of Youth, and the interdisciplinarity in fact makes the research future-proof."

What research projects are you working on?

"I'm involved in an application for a survey by Health Behaviour in School-aged Children - HBSC . HBSC uniquely offers us opportunities for conducting research into social inequality: how is it possible that social inequality is rising in an affluent country? Furthermore, I'm still supervising two PhD candidates at VU Amsterdam."

What would you do if you were not a scientist?

"If I weren't a scientist, I'd love to run a shop where people can buy the Perfect Gift. The customer will tell me something about the person they're buying the gift for and I'll translate the information into a sensational gift which perfectly matches that particular person. That would be terrific, finding a really good match by putting yourself in someone else's shoes."

Who do you admire?

"My list is too long to mention. I'm a great admirer of scientists whose research has an eye-opening effect. Research that makes me think: I wish I'd discovered that. Like cognitive psychologist Elizabeth Loftus, whose research on memory revealed that the person asking the question determines how someone remembers something Recollections of childhood sexual abuse are an example. Nowadays, science is 'on steroids', there are so incredibly many good people. Outside academia, I admire Obama's optimism. Hope makes a profound difference!"