Adaptive Social learning in Typical and Atypical Developing Adolescents

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Clinical Health and Educational Psych

Abstract

Summary - Social learning in adolescents with conduct problems

Adolescents with conduct problems (CP) present severe behavioural problems and have difficulties in adjusting to social norms. Children and adolescents with CP appear to process social information in an atypical way. Hostile attribution biases, lack of empathy, and both under- and over-reactivity to emotional facial expressions have been observed in this population. Although the social information processing profiles of children and adolescents with CP may appear atypical when compared with peers of the same age, it is conceivable that their cognitive/affective profiles match life histories that have set strong priors, which hamper adaptive social learning. In other words, compared with the mainstream population, children and adolescents with CP may have adapted to different social environments (more chaotic and unpredictable, with untrustworthy adults) and whilst their social learning appears maladaptive to the society at large, it may match the environment in which they grew up. It is also of note that children and adolescents with CP are a heterogeneous population, with some seemingly fearless and lacking in empathy (those with high callous-unemotional traits; high-CU) and others very emotionally labile (those with low callous-unemotional traits; low-CU). Such traits may further constrain individual social learning during development. In short, it is not clear how the seeming disregard for social norms may constrain further social learning in individuals with CP. It is also unclear to what extent childhood environment and child specific traits account for social learning patterns of CP adolescents. The current study has been set up to investigate these questions.

Planned Impact

Below I detail pathways to impact with regard to specific groups:

1) Clinicians and practitioners who work with children with conduct problems. Relevant professions include psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, educational psychologists and psychotherapists. In the short to medium term my research will help inform a clinical model of social learning in different subtypes of children with conduct problems and the degree to which such social learning may be biased by social background and individual characteristics. I regularly contribute to training events to clinicians. I have also in the past (together with Prof McCrory) organised a conference in London attended by over 250 clinicians (October 2011 "Childhood Disorders: Neuroscience and Intervention") that paired presentations from both leading academics and expert practitioners and included a session on conduct problems and their treatment. A similar conference is planned for 2017 or 2018 (specific timing contingent on partnering organisations and colleagues).

In the longer-term I hope that gains from this project will contribute to improved clinical assessment of children with conduct problems and more tailored clinical approaches to intervention and treatment, in this group, particularly in relation to those with and without CU traits. Short briefing downloadable documents will be created for clinicians and practitioners that will be uploaded onto our UCL Unit website (www.drru-research.org) in order to summarise the potential implications of our research (and that of others in the field) for intervention.

2) Children's charities including a variety of voluntary sector organisations that have a direct interest in advancing our understanding of conduct problems in children. These include organisations such as the Anna Freud Centre, with which the PI has strong links. Engagement with charities will help support their case for intervention as charities typically lobby government and public to increase provision for children presenting with conduct problems and their families.

3) Policy makers including the Department of Children, Schools and Families, The Department of Health, and the Department of Justice. I have previously contributed to policy seminars organised by the Department of Health, Home Office and Prime Minister's Strategy Unit. Findings from the proposed study will be well placed to inform future policy and government priorities in relation to interventions for children with conduct problems. I will continue my active engagement with policy makers and policy iniatives throughout the grant period.

4) Carers who look after children with conduct problems (including parents, foster carers and adoptive parents, as well as kinship carers) often find it a challenging to understand and manage their child's emotional and behavioural problems. A fuller understanding of the specific difficulties, can make them easier to manage. I have contributed in an advisory / Co-I roles to recent school and clinic based intervention trials for children with different subtypes of conduct problems. My collaborator, Prof McCrory treats children with conduct problems in his clinical role and has authored a treatment manual for conduct problems. We will continue to engage with carers and communicate our research in ways that will help carers manage the parenting challenges they face.

5) Individuals with conduct problems. Ultimately the primary beneficiaries should be those who have conduct problems. This will be realised by achieving impact in relation to the above.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description I chaired the Children and Young People's Mental Health Research Strategy section for soon to be published government 10-year mental health research strategy document.
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
URL https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/a-framework-for-mental-health-research
 
Description This is a three centre ORA grant between my team at UCL, Dr van Bos' team in Max Plank Berlin, and Dr van Duijveovoord's team in Leiden. 
Organisation Leiden University
Department Institute of Psychology
Country Netherlands 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We have provided consultation on personality and social environmental measures, as well as helped tailor measures so that they are suitable for children. Our own active data collection for this project will only commence Summer 2017, so far I have only contributed to the battery development. People will be hired on this grant from Summer 2017.
Collaborator Contribution The partners have contributed expertise in computational modelling and adolescent brain development.
Impact n/a - the partnership has only started
Start Year 2016
 
Description This is a three centre ORA grant between my team at UCL, Dr van Bos' team in Max Plank Berlin, and Dr van Duijveovoord's team in Leiden. 
Organisation Max Planck Society
Department Max Planck Institute for Brain Research
Country Germany 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We have provided consultation on personality and social environmental measures, as well as helped tailor measures so that they are suitable for children. Our own active data collection for this project will only commence Summer 2017, so far I have only contributed to the battery development. People will be hired on this grant from Summer 2017.
Collaborator Contribution The partners have contributed expertise in computational modelling and adolescent brain development.
Impact n/a - the partnership has only started
Start Year 2016
 
Description Invited talk at Oxford University Wellcome Centre for Ethics and Humanities 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Talk about individuals as co-creators of their own environments: Implications for understanding development and applying interventions. Talk aimed at the intersection of psychology and philosophy.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Keynote European Congress of Forensic Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Keynote at the European Congress for Forensic Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Approximately 300 academics and practitioners attended this talk about neurocognitive presentation of children with conduct problems and callous-unemotional traits and how this presentation may shape the child's social environment.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Keynote at the European Association of Psychology and Law 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Keynote speech about children with conduct problems and callous-unemotional traits and how they contribute to shaping their social environments.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Talk for practitioners and researchers at Queen's University Belfast 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Talk about the profile of children with conduct problems and callous unemotional traits, with a particular emphasis on potential environmental pathways to this presentation. The impact of maltreatment histories to information processing and social interactions and social learning was presented.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Workshop for PhD students in affective neuroscience, Holland 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Workshop to approximately 60 PhD students studying affective neuroscience in Holland.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018