Most children develop well and find their way in society without major problems, but some do not. A combination of the child’s disposition and the environment in which he or she is raised is thought to underlie this developmental difference.
The Consortium on Individual Development (CID) aims to advance our knowledge and understanding of why some children thrive and others do not. To this end, we plan to develop a model of how developmental differences between children arise as a result of the interplay between child characteristics and environmental factors, by filling in crucial gaps in our knowledge of the role of brain development, effects of interventions in the environment, and intergenerational transmission.
Within CID several close-knitted projects focus on identifying critical factors and their interplay during development. CID research projects study how the environment (family characteristics, parents and siblings, peers, and broader societal influences including media) and child characteristics (genetic makeup, temperament, and pre- and perinatal factors) affect the development of social competence (SC) and behavioural control (BC), skills that are essential for functioning in society and for reducing risk of behavioural and emotional problems. For more information on the implementation of these two central CID measures see the section on Social competence and behavioural control measures.
CID research is grouped into four work packages (WPs), each focusing on specific aspects of development:
- The role of brain development in WP1
The neurobiological developmental trajectory of newborns, children, and adolescents is not fully understood. In particular, we are only just beginning to learn to what extent genetic and environmental factors influence brain development and how these effects in turn influence behavior. WP1 focuses on brain development in relation to behavior, specifically on social competence and behavioral control and addresses questions regarding their interrelationships, how associations might develop as a function of age, gender, genetic influences, and environmental exposures.
- Effects of interventions in WP2
Children are not equally vulnerable to adverse rearing environments, nor do they equally profit from supportive environments. Differential susceptibility theory proposes that vulnerable children, who suffer most from bad environments, are also more receptive to positive changes in the child rearing and wider social environment. Central questions are: Which children are most susceptible to environmental influences, and what are the neurobiological mechanisms by which the environment influences children’s social competence and behavioural control? These questions are addressed experimentally in longitudinal randomized controlled trials (Leiden-Consortium Individual Development, L-CID), using cognitive and behavioural interventions.
- The role of generational transmission in families in WP3
The WP3 studies investigate how the characteristics of grandparents (Generation 1, G1) impact the development of parents (Generation 2, G2) and – through them – the development of their children (Generation 3, G3). These studies have a multigenerational design and investigate the extent to which genetic and non-genetic transmission between generations causes differences in developmental outcomes in children and adolescents. The three-generation design is used to study behavioural transmission. Two- and three-generation designs are used to study the epigenetics of transmission and to untangle genetic and environmental processes of transmission of processes related to behavioural control and social competence.
- Animal and mathematical models of development in WP4
We aim to gain an understanding of how gene x environment (G x E) interactions influence the development of behavioural control and social competence (relevant to work packages 1-3). To this end, we will use models to study G x E interactions under highly controlled conditions; use experimental methods to examine specific brain connections (down to the level of synapses); investigate trans-generational effects within a time-frame of a few years; and test the validity of specific theoretical frameworks, which in turn can be used to guide future experiments. Like the other WPs, WP4 makes use of shared technology (e.g. neuroimaging) and has a focus on behavioural control and social competence.
The figure below shows how the different WPs are interrelated with a shared focus on the interplay of child characteristics and environmental factors in determining developmental differences, specifically in social competence and behavioural control.
Several cohorts support the different work packages:
- WP1 a longitudinal cohort based in Utrecht (YOUth).
- WP2 an intervention cohort based in Leiden (L-CID).
- WP3 four existing longitudinal cohorts: (i) TRAILS based in Groningen, (ii) Generation-R based in Rotterdam, (iii) RADAR based in Utrecht, and (iv) NTR based in Amsterdam.
- WP4 animal cohort.
Each cohort includes both shared and specific measures of social competence and behavioural control. In addition, several developmental traits are collected in all cohorts. Together, this allows integration of datasets as well as more focused analysis in two or more cohorts.