Michelle Achterberg, PhD.

I am a developmental neuroscientist with an interest in social competence development.


Our society is reliant on social competent individuals, but how social competence develops within-individuals remains largely unknown.  Building on international research showing that, overall, the development of social competence starts in early childhood, my research has pinpointed important individual differences in the processes of social competence development (Achterberg et al., 2018), as well as the longitudinal trajectories herein across childhood (aged 7-11, Achterberg et al., 2020). Moreover, I was one of the first to show that brain development can be predictive of future behavioral control (Achterberg et al., 2016). However, it remains unknown how individual differences in social competence development are driven by biological determinants (genetics, brain development) and environmental influences (parents, peers). Providing an answer to this crucial question is the next critical step in my line of research. As an Assistant Professor in Pedagogical Sciences and one of the PIs on the longitudinal neuroimaging twin-study Leiden Consortium Individual Development (L-CID), I am in the unique position to examine pressing unanswered questions on the complex interplay of nature and nurture on social competence development. 


With society becoming more socially complex and challenging, it is more important than ever to understand how children grow up to be socially competent adults. Such a complex question requires the strengths of an interdisciplinary approach, which I accomplish by integrating theories and methods from Developmental Psychology with Cognitive Neuroscience, and Pedagogical Sciences.


In addition to scientific research, I aim to build bridges between science and society by communicating scientific findings to the broader society as well as incorporating the society in setting up new studies, using citizen-science.