Social Anxiety and School Refusal in Adolescence

Social Anxiety and School Refusal in Adolescence


One of the key vulnerabilities in adolescence is social anxiety, defined as an extreme fear for the opinions of others and the avoidance of social situations. In some ways, this development can be seen as a healthy and normal transition where adolescents eventually learn to cope with social fears and become adults with mature social goals. Yet, for some adolescents social anxiety is so prevalent that it has severe social and psychological consequences.

When and how social anxiety develops and how it can go astray is the core focus of our research program. We target this question using a unique approach; we investigate how and when the maturation of behavior and brain function is related to genes versus environment in a socially complex and changing world.

A special focus of this research is on school refusal, an extreme form of social avoidance behavior with direct implications for education and health programs. School refusal may be related to social anxiety, depression, or other forms of psychopathology. We have developed a new treatment protocol to help troubled young people to attend school regularly and return to a normal developmental pathway – a path along which they can succeed academically and do well emotionally and socially.

In Focus

Project to brigde the gap between education and youth mental health care

Michiel Westenberg received funding from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) for a project to connect education and youth mental health care.

The research project aims to develop and test a three-step model, in which the intensity of care is adjusted to the student’s needs. Read more.

New PhD student Sara Mansson

On June 1st, Sara Jakobsson Mansson joined our research group as a PhD student. She will be doing intervention studies at the new clinical facility, LUBEC, under supervision of Michiel Westenberg.

CSC scholarship for Jiemiao Chen

With this prestigious grant from the China Scholarship Counsil, Jiemiao will join our research group as a PhD-student in September. Her research will focus on gaze behavior in social anxiety and she will be working with Michiel Westenberg and Esther van den Bos.