Developmental Psychology and Clinical Psychology of Childhood and Adolescence

Management and Homepage

currently vacant

Interim Professorship: Dr. Thorsten Kolling

Developmental Psychology is concerned with the changes in thinking, feeling, and behaviour that occur throughout the human life span. This includes, for example, (a) language development, (b) epochal influences on development, such as the comparison of developmental characteristics in different generations and (c) inter-individual differences in development, such as the stability of individual differences in mental ability. The scope of the clinical child and adolescent psychology entails the different aspects of mental disorders in this age group, such as symptoms, , epidemiology or therapeutic approaches. In addition to normative development in childhood and adolescence, the focusing of psychopathological, developmental processes plays a special role.  This is particularly due to the fact that the healthcare needs for children and adolescents, suffering from mental health problems, is approximately 10-15%. The majority of psychiatric disorders also begin as early as childhood and adolescence and early recognition and treatment is associated with a significantly better prognosis.

Main Research Areas

The main research interests of the working group are in the following areas:

Mental Disorders in Childhood and Adolescence

We are particularly interested in the development, the underlying mechanisms and treatment of oppositional defiant and conduct disorders (ODD/CD), attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and selective mutism (SM) in childhood and adolescence. Children with ODD/CD violate basic rights of others and societal norm and hence are often at odds with their parents, peers and teachers. In some cases, they also show dissocial and delinquent behavior, such as lying, stealing or the deliberate destruction of property. Children and adolescents with ADHD display inattention and disorganization, hyperactivity and pronounced impulsivity. ADHD often persists into adulthood, with resultant impairments of social, academic and occupational functioning. ASS is a pervasive developmental disorder, which is accompanied by severe difficulties in social interaction and communication, as well as repetitive and stereotypical behaviour. Children and adolescents with SM are silent in certain situations, while in other situations, they have no problems in speaking. All of these disorders put a considerable strain on the children and young people, as well as their families.

Children of mentally ill parents

Children of mentally ill parents are a group at particular risk of developing a mental disorder, as these children are exposed to both increased genetic vulnerability and numerous psychosocial stressors. At the same time, practical assistance for these children is scarce and the specific mechanisms that increase or reduce the risk have not yet been sufficiently researched.

Social cognition and empathy in childhood and adolescence

Our group addresses the question of how social cognition and empathy develop in childhood and adolescence. It is also concerned with whether and in which areas children and adolescents with mental disorders have deficits in social cognition and empathy. Social cognition encompasses all the perceptual and processing mechanisms regarding social information, such as the recognition of feelings in others. Empathy refers to the processes of understanding and sympathizing with the feelings of others.