Clinical and Developmental Psychopathology (research)

Meet the staff

Sander Begeer

Dr. Sander Begeer,  Associate Professor in Developmental Psychology

What fascinates you in the area of clinical and developmental psychopathology?
I am interested in both fundamental and applied questions about normal and abnormal development. The focus on clinical groups, in my case children with autism, highlights how special it is when children develop in ‘normal’ ways. We often take the social and emotional skills of young children for granted, even though they don’t receive any formal education in these domains. The development of, for instance, perspective taking or empathy in young children who have no psychopathology is fascinating, and studying clinical groups enables us to appreciate this.

What are recent accomplishments in your research?
I just returned from working in Sydney, Australia, as a research fellow for two years. Over there I focused on the different domains of social cognition and empathy in children and adults. Among other things we looked at the underlying physiological responses during empathic behavior in children with autism, conduct problems or typical development. We recently also published various papers which shed a different light on empathy and autism. Their understanding of others and their basic empathic skills seem to be less impaired than previously thought, but their responses are very diverse, and there is a strong need to focus on factors underlying this diversity (see www.ara.vu.nl).

What are you working on at the moment?
I am working on a large longitudinal cohort of individuals with autism (www.nederlandsautismeregister.nl), that will enable us to study why individuals with autism vary in their development. Some of these individuals become university professors, others are fully institutionalized. We want to understand what factors predict these differences, so we can use them for interventions. I also study the effect of interventions directly, in collaboration with de Bascule in Amsterdam. After studying psychometrics and theoretical psychology at the University of Amsterdam, I worked as a lecturer at the University of Amsterdam and a research assistant at Sussex University, Brighton, UK. Theoretical questions regarding the philosophy of mind paved the way for subsequent empirical work on children at the VU University. My interest in the development of Theory of Mind, or empathic skills, resulted in a PhD on the social skills of children with autism, entitled ‘Social and emotional skills and understanding of children with autism spectrum disorders’ in 2005 at the VU University of Amsterdam.

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