Marijke Achterberg

I like to observe animals and people

"I am fascinated by social behaviour and I like to observe both people and animals. Of all the social behaviours that animals display, I am particularly fascinated by social play behaviour. Social play behaviour is very important for animals and humans. Engaging in social play gives young mammals the opportunity to develop rich, adaptive and flexible behaviour to cope with the challenges of living in a social group. 

Unraveling how the brain affects behaviour
"As a child, I asked my parents lots of questions, I always wanted to know why or how something happened. I became interested in biology, especially in the brain. So much is still unknown about the brain. It's our control mechanism, when something goes wrong within the brain it usually affects behaviour to a large extent. Unraveling how the brain affects behaviour was my main drive to become a behavioural neuroscientist, and it still is my main drive to do research in this field.

Playing with rats
One of our research goals is to identify brain areas and neurotransmitter systems underlying the pleasurable, motivational and cognitive aspects of social play behaviour in adolescent rats. We study rats, because of their rich social behavioural repertoire and their social play behaviour is easily quantifiable. Play behaviour of rats is a mixture of exaggerated adult affiliative, sexual and aggressive behaviour, but displayed out of context. It’s really nice to see rats playing, it always makes me smile.”

Quality of life
"We also try to get a better picture of social dysfunction associated with autism and schizophrenia. Social dysfunction has severe consequences for the individual, greatly affecting the quality of life. We investigate how reduced social interaction in early life, in combination with a genetic defect associated with autism and schizophrenia, affects social behaviour and cognition in an animal model. How is the brain different in patients and what mechanisms cause social dysfunction associated with these disorders? I'd really like to find out, also because someone very dear to me suffers from autism.”