Development in adverse conditions

Our first goal is to challenge the conventional view that growing up in stressful conditions only impairs cognition. Although adverse environments are harmful, some abilities may be enhanced by adversity, especially those that are ecologically relevant to living in dangerous and unpredictable conditions. In addition, certain responses to high-adversity contexts (e.g., steep future discounting) that are often viewed as irrational, might be biologically adaptive, even if these responses are undesirable and good to change. Thus, our goal is to identify and contextualise the strengths of people living in adversity. In doing so, our work complements conventional views on development in harsh environments that focus on impairments. We hope our findings lead to new education, jobs, policy, and interventions that leverage the strengths of youth living in adverse conditions.

Representative publication

Frankenhuis, W. E., & Nettle, D. (2020). The strengths of people in poverty. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 29, 16-21. Open Access.

Evolution of development

Our second goal is to advance theory at the interface between evolution, development, and learning. In psychology, evolutionary perspectives are sometimes associated with traits that are present at birth, static, universal in the species, and not learned based on interactions with the environment. However, all traits result from evolved developmental systems that are designed by natural selection to leverage the statistical structure of the environment, often through learning and plasticity. The main challenge is to discover how the properties of these systems interact with stochastic dynamic environments to produce species-typical developmental trajectories and outcomes, individual differences, and cultural variation. In the DEEP lab, we use mathematical modeling and simulation-based models to explore the evolution of adaptive plasticity, including sensitive and critical periods in development.

Representative publication

Frankenhuis, W. E., & Walasek, N. (2020). Modeling the evolution of sensitive periods. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 41, 100715. Open Access.

Open Science

Our third goal is to conduct transparent and reproducible research, and to discuss and use best research practices with colleagues. We preregister all of our confirmatory empirical studies: before conducting research, we describe our target sample size, materials, hypotheses, and analyses at the Open Science Framework or in a Registered Report. We have also developed resources for students and faculty explaining its benefits for scholars and for the field. During courses and supervision, we train students about the merits of transparency and open science, and teach that science is hard, takes patience, and benefits from careful, thoughtful research.

Representative publication

Frankenhuis, W. E., & Nettle, D. (2018). Open science is liberating and can foster creativity. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 13, 439– 447. Open Access.