Consortium on Individual Development


10 December 2019
15:00 - 15:45
Academy Building Rapenburg 73 2311 GJ Leiden

PhD defence Mara van der Meulen

The social brain in middle childhood – a neurobiological perspective on individual differences in social competence

On Tuesday 10 December 2019 Mara van der Meulen (LU, WP2) defends her PhD dissertation.


The social relationships we form with other individuals are a fundamental part of human development. In order to establish these relationships it is of key importance for children to develop social competence (e.g. the ability to fulfill both others’ and own needs in a social context). The main goal of this thesis was to understand individual differences in social competence in middle childhood, by employing a combination of behavioral, neuroimaging and behavioral genetic approaches. Findings demonstrated that adults and children display social competence by showing helping behavior as a response to observed social exclusion. Additionally, in both adults and children social competence was associated with an integrated set of brain regions involved in socio-cognitive and affective processing, indicating that the neural architecture underlying social competence is already well established in middle childhood. Results on heritability of social competence indicate that individual differences in prosocial tendencies and brain structure might be partly influenced by genetic factors, but that neural and behavioral responses in a specific social context are largely shaped by an individual’s experiences in the (social) environment. This thesis highlights middle childhood as a possible window of opportunity for increasing social competence through training or intervention.

Meulen M. van der (2019) The social brain in middle childhood: a neurobiological perspective on individual differences in social competence

List of CID PhD dissertations:

PhD dissertations