‘It has become more normal to talk about anxiety and depression.  That can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy,” says neuropsychologist Eveline Crone

‘It has become more normal to talk about anxiety and depression. That can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy,” says neuropsychologist Eveline Crone

Eveline Crone, psychologist and neuroscientist, was scheduled to give a talk in Los Angeles, California in early May. But that didn’t happen. Pro-Palestine students occupied the university campus. Fights broke out with pro-Israel students.

Do you see it as a form of commitment?

“Yes, and I understand it, but an occupation and certain violence go too far for me. Students sometimes have to give up a lot to go to university. They can’t take their classes now.”

You went home again?

“No. My daughter was with me, she is almost sixteen and would participate in the symposium. We had just taken a road trip. San Diego, Joshua Tree Park, LA. And I was able to speak to quite a few colleagues.”

She is famous for her research into the adolescent brain. And through her books, The adolescent brain and The social brain of the adolescent, almost everyone now knows why teenagers and adolescents can have difficulty planning and organizing, being motivated for their tasks, and controlling emotions. Their brains, especially the areas involved in cognitive functions, are still developing. That lasts until they are twenty-five.

At the age of thirty-three, Eveline Crone was a professor in Leiden and since 2020 she has also worked at Erasmus University Rotterdam. She is a professor there developmental neuroscience in society. She incorporates, and this is new, social insights into her work. And she involves young people in asking research questions. What do they consider important? What do they need? She has just become chair of the scientific advisory board of MIND Us, a foundation committed to the mental health of young people, together with young people.

At the beginning of May it was announced that she would become a member of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States. He advises politicians and policymakers, solicited and unsolicited, on social issues. Only the best researchers are invited. “Seems to be very prestigious,” she emails and on the phone she says that it is an international trend to talk to the people who are being investigated on an equal basis. “In the US, this form of research is increasingly seen and appreciated.”

My mother was a pediatrician in Schiedam and in her practice she saw children and parents from very different backgrounds

When did it start for you?

“About five years ago. Before then, I needed all my attention to understand the brains of young people and to develop measurement methods to make valid statements about the brain and behavior. Now I also work with questionnaires and youth panels. It started to bother me that we were only looking at certain groups of young people, young people who are interested in participating in research. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy with them and grateful for their contribution, but I thought: am I reaching the right groups, am I asking the right questions? My mother was a pediatrician in Schiedam and in her practice she saw children and parents from very different backgrounds. I didn’t see that.”

You went looking for them?

“Yes, and the pandemic was a game changer for this new way of doing research. We then started talking to many different young people, including young people from South Rotterdam who you don’t often see in panels or at One today. What are you running into? We were able to dispel a few myths quite quickly, for example that during the lockdowns young people turned off their cameras during online classes because they were disinterested. But it was inability, insecurity. At that time I noticed that politicians liked to talk about the interests of young people. In practice they always came at the back. The interests of the elderly always came first. Then you should not be surprised that young people have less confidence in politics.”

There are young people who tell us that they feel that sexual freedom is being forced upon them

What topics do the young people you talk to consider important?

“Social inequality. Concerns about the climate. Performance pressure and mental health. Physical health. When you think of performance pressure you think: rich families. But children of newcomers also feel the pressure. They say: my parents gave up a lot for us and now they want me to become a doctor or lawyer. And then they also have part-time jobs to support themselves financially. They take care of their younger brothers or sisters.”

Do you also see that young people are becoming more conservative?

“In the student election in November, the majority of secondary school and vocational students voted for conservative parties, but the motivations behind it are not always clear. Is it because she’s with a winning team want to hear? Do they have concerns that we do not yet understand? There is a lot of uncertainty about the future, due to war and climate, due to the shortage of houses. And how will things go financially? There are young people who tell us that they feel that sexual freedom is being forced upon them. We are going to investigate whether this is widely accepted.”

And social media? Do young people say that this contributes to their stress?

“They don’t mention it as a source of performance pressure. They don’t seem to experience it that way. It strikes me that there is surprisingly little resistance to the measure to ban telephones in the classroom. As if they are fine with it that way. What I find very worrying: that the big tech companies in the US are hiring neuroscientists to make people even more addicted to their phones by adding certain algorithms to apps. Colleagues who know everything about the adolescent brain.”

Young people all have the same basic needs: discovering the world, building intimate friendships…

Why is it that more young people than before are suffering from anxiety and depression?

“Yes, how come? Twenty years ago it started to increase, in any case it was reported more often, and not only in the Netherlands. The pandemic has acted as a catalyst. There are researchers who say it is because of social media. I don’t think you can connect it one-to-one. In any case, it is not the only explanation. Young people also enjoy social media. And so much is changing in the world. Families are smaller than before, parents expect more from their children. It has become more normal to talk about mental problems, it can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you talk about it a lot, then it is there.”

What can we do about it?

“Empowering young people in what makes them stronger. They all have the same basic needs: discovering the world, building intimate friendships, being heard and seen. Let them do things outside of school. Organize sports activities. Give them a say. It’s not just: you have to get stronger. The environment must also become stronger.”




SCIENCE