Nikolaus Steinbeis is a developmental psychologist who uses an interdisciplinary approach drawing on the methods of cognitive neuroscience, social, affective and developmental psychology, empirical economics as well as epigenetics to understand mechanisms of change in socio-affective development and decision-making during childhood and adolescence. His particular focus is on understanding the impact of environmental influences on the developing brain and how these shape the emergence of stable individual differences in social and economic decisions as well as affective styles.
My plans for the fellowship period
During the period of my fellowship I intend to pursue research questions related to the malleability of two skills essential for well-being: behavioral control and active coping. Behavioral control is critically related to social and economic decision-making and the ability to cope actively with stressors can determine the likelihood of psychological disorders such as anxiety and depression. I intend to draw up a research agenda that systematically explores the role of contextual variables as well as dedicated interventions in shaping children’s ability to resist temptations in the context of prosocial and patient decisions and to cope in the context of fearful experiences. An integral part of this research is to explore the underlying neural mechanisms of such developmental malleability, both structurally and functionally. One key aim is to consolidate my network of researchers working on similar questions but with different methodologies as well as to reach out to educators and schools to maximize the potential impact of relevant stakeholders early on in this research program.
How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?
One of my key interests is to understand the impact of the environment on the developing brain, particularly with regards to key skills such as behavioral control and stress resilience. Behavioral control is necessary for resisting temptation and delaying gratification and a predictor of future success and physical and psychological well-being. Stress resilience on the other hand is necessary in a world that makes increasing demands and prior to adolescence, a period during which mental disorders are most likely to emerge. I hope to identify specific developmental periods of heightened neural plasticity with regards to these skills as well as identifying the types of experiences that impact their development, either positively or negatively. I expect these findings to make a critical contribution in the discovery of periods of both heightened vulnerabilities as well as opportunities. This can in turn provide the basis for interventions that protect from harm and promote optimal development at time points when this is most effective in development.