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Developmental Computational Psychiatry

Research team

We investigate why most psychiatric disorders arise before adulthood and how this is related to aberrant neurocognitive development.

Why do most mental health problems emerge before adulthood? With 75% of all psychiatric disorders arising before young adulthood, adolescence is a critical period of vulnerability for developing mental health problems. However, it is unknown why this is the case.

The goal of the Developmental Computational Psychiatry Group is to understand the neural and cognitive mechanisms that underlie the emergence of mental health problems during adolescence, and how we can use this knowledge to prevent adolescents from becoming ill.

Adolescence is also a time of prolonged cognitive development when the brain undergoes fundamental reorganisation. We believe that it is thus critical to understand the developmental trajectories of cognition and brain development and to assess how these processes go awry in youths that are developing mental health problems. To assess this, we conducted a longitudinal study to investigate how brain development is tied to the presence of psychiatric symptoms (Ziegler, Hauser et al., 2019). Using a novel marker for myelin, we showed that widespread myelin development continues well into adulthood. Moreover, we showed that this ongoing brain development was modulated by the presence of psychiatric traits. Subjects with high trait impulsivity or compulsivity scores showed reduced myelination in prefrontal regions, in areas known to be impaired in adults with these disorders. Our findings thus suggest that the emergence of psychiatric disorders is a consequence of aberrant brain developmental trajectories.

A key to understanding how neurocognitive development goes awry and leads to mental health problems, is to identify the cognitive functions that are impaired in psychiatric patients and to trace their normative and aberrant development during childhood and adolescence (Hauser et al., 2018). Only by understanding normative development, we can detect a derailing of specific sub-processes. We thus combine decision neuroscience studies with developmental and patient studies. For example, we have shown that obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) patients suffer from excessive indecisiveness characterised by increased information gathering (Hauser et al., 2017). Using computational modelling, we showed this was driven by a delayed emergence of subjective sampling costs (Hauser et al., 2017), and is linked to noradrenaline functioning (Hauser et al, 2018). Using paediatric OCD patients and normative developmental studies, we demonstrated that information gathering matures in early adolescence and that juvenile OCD patients already show the same indecisiveness as adults (Hauser et al., in prep). This means that a neurocognitive derailing takes place early during development and that prevention is necessary before onset of adolescence.

 

Lab website


Principal Investigator

Tobias Hauser
t.hauser@ucl.ac.uk

Team

Benjamin Chew

PhD student

Magda Dubois

PhD student

Alisa Loosen

PhD student

Madeleine Payne

PhD Student

Johanna Habicht

Research Assistant

Research areas