Social Anxiety and School Refusal in Adolescence

Social Anxiety and School Refusal in Adolescence


This website is no longer maintained, please visit our new website: Social Anxiety and Specific Phobia in Youth.

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

Two scholarships for Selin Topel

Our research master student Selin Topel has been awarded two scholarships to fund her internship at the Yale Child Study Center. Selin was awarded a Minerva scholarship, as well as a grant from the Leiden University Fund for students. At Yale, Selin will be trained in setting up and running an experiment that examines the neural underpinnings of biased social learning in socially anxious and autistic children. During her internship Selin will be supervised by Dr. Michael Crowley (local supervisor) and Dr. Melle van der Molen (Leiden University supervisor).

Scientist Wanted

Janna Marie Bas-Hoogendam is one of the young scientists participating in the science communication project "Scientist Wanted".

Talent Grant for Elise Kortink

With this prestigious grant from NWO Elise Kortink will re-join our research group as a PhD student, supervised by Melle van der Molen and Michiel Westenberg. Her PhD project aims to identify symptom profiles indicating an elevated risk of developing social anxiety disorder in adolescence. In particular, Elise will investigate potential differences in a brain mechanism involved in behavioral responses to uncertain social situations and social learning.