Creating Impact Science Program (CRISP) Fellow, Jacobs Foundation Research Fellow

Nikolaus Steinbeis

University College London

Research focus
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.

What have I achieved during my fellowship?
During my Jacobs Fellowship I successfully managed to establish and consolidate a novel line of research that seeks to tackle the question of how environment and maturation interact during child development. Moreover, by using behavioural control as a phenotype my work is able to speak on a profound developmental question with huge societal relevance. The work funded by the foundation has been crucial in setting up these research strands by allowing me to hire a postdoctoral researcher who could work directly on this. Further, the fellowship allowed me to collaborate with programmers from Cambridge in order to materialise training protocols with enormous sophistication. In effect, the fellowship was a critical steppingstone, shortly after which I obtained an ERC Starting Grant, which allowed me to carry out these projects at a ten-fold scale. With both of these grants I managed to negotiate a permanent position at UCL and to set up a research group, which including myself consists of 8 members of staff. During this period, I continued to publish in high profile developmental psychology and neuroscience journals, such as Nature Communications, Nature Human Behaviour, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, Developmental Science etc. I organised a workshop on the topics of my fellowship and am currently editing a special issue for Developmental Science on this. My wider outreach has been significant in that national and international press has covered my work and I was given the opportunity to present on my research to the Duchess of Cambridge in her role of patron at the Anna Freud Center and head of the Royal Foundation, seeking to improve children’s lives.

My plans for the future
Scientifically, I wish to extend my research to collaborating with rodent models of development and creating a translational bridge. This would allow me to observe the influence of environmental experiences, specifically enrichment at a much finer scale and with greater experimenter control. I also wish to increase my outreach and collaborative activity with schools and policy makers to establish links with stakeholders at this point such that the findings of my research can be leveraged relatively immediately for relevant parties. I further plan to widen my collaborative activities both nationally and internationally. In terms of the former, plans are underfoot to harness the endeavors of the developmental neuroscience community, which includes both Tobias Hauser as well as Sarah-Jayne Blakemore into a research center of common purpose. In terms of the latter, I have begun active collaborations with researchers at Harvard, Yale and Boston College, as well as the University of Copenhagen, while maintaining existing ties with previous institutions such as the Max-Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences.