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Toy Brain

Planned Research 

By focusing on early, middle and late adolescence across five European countries, IP-PAD will address the following key research objectives:

  1. To capture, through a 3-wave panel study in the 5 participating countries, the development of cognitive, affective, political variables in adolescence enabling within-participant and cross-country comparisons (WP1).

  2. To understand how the asynchronous cognitive and affective development across adolescence relates to the emergence of political ideology (WP2).

  3. To understand how emotional politics shapes adolescents’ political identities (WP3).

  4. To understand the development of epistemic and political trust in adolescence, their inter-relation and how they relate to political attitudes (WP4).

  5. To understand how the development of social cognition during adolescence relates to contemporary challenges to liberal democracy, such as populism (WP5).

  6. To understand how the developing adolescent identity relates to political engagement or radicalization (WP6).

Below we expand on each of these Work Packages (WPs).


Our research will begin with WP1 that will focus on the development of a  3-wave Cross-Country Panel Study in the 5 participating countries. The objective of this WP is infrastructure development. For that reason, all DCs across all Universities will start to work collaboratively on this WP that will be led by Royal Holloway, University of London. This panel study will allow us to measure some key political and social attitudes as well as some data on cognitive, perceptual and affective processings. The panel studies allow for between-subjects and between-country comparisons, but their longitudinal nature will also allow us to conduct within-subjects comparisons across time.

The five participating Universities will then go on to develop different Work Packages:

WP2-Cognition, Affect & Ideology, led by Royal Holloway, University of London (UK).

Recent neurocognitive research on adults’ political ideology suggests that there are specific cognitive traits that encourage ideological thinking. Specifically (i) cognitive inflexibility, (ii) impaired metacognitive awareness, and (iii) slower perceptual evidence accumulation processing are associated with ideological thinking. Recent political science research demonstrates the importance of emotional processes in ideological thinking. Bridging these findings WP2’s research question is: what are the relative contributions of cognitive and emotional traits to ideological thinking across the developmental window of adolescence ?

The Early Stage Researchers at Royal Holloway will be supervised jointly by academic staff from the Department of Psychology and the Department of Politics, International Relations and Philosophy. The Psychology Department hosts a research-dedicated MRI scanner, psychophysiology labs, a social neuroscience lab, and the IT and computing infrastructure for online experiments (including remote psychophysiological measures of heart rate). The department also hosts the South East Research Network for Schools, facilitating participation of school students to regional, national and international research. The Department of Politics, International Relations, and Philosophy provides PhD students with access to a dedicated workspace with state of the art IT and computing facilities including various types of statistical software packages (R, Stata, SPSS) and online survey platforms (Qualtrics). Lastly, the DCs will benefit from close interactions with the fellows and the labs at Centre for the Politics of Feelings, directed by Tsakiris, that focuses on the interdisciplinary study of physiological states, emotions and political attitudes and behaviour.


WP3- Emotional Politics & Identity, led by the University of Amsterdam (Netherlands).

Adolescents growing up today face a threatening world: a pandemic, ongoing climate change, and possibly a next financial meltdown. Neuroscience research shows that threats trigger emotion regulation strategies. These strategies motivate specific behaviours such as approach and avoidance. Political science research describes that in response to threats some individuals engage with the threat, whereas others ignore the threat. Adolescents are a key group of interest here, because of their developing political identities and their weaker cognitive control and stronger reliance on emotional processes. In sum: the core research question of WP3 is how do adolescents regulate their emotions towards threats and what political behaviour does this motivate.

This WP will be embedded within the Amsterdam School of Communication Research (ASCoR). ASCoR is the research institute for the Communication Science department at the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences. Within ASCoR you will be part of the Political Communication & Journalism group and a member of the Hot Politics Lab (co-directed by Dr. Bakker & Dr. Schumacher). We offer a dynamic and inspiring work environment with a variety of duties and ample scope for own initiative and further professional development and education


WP4- Epistemic & Political Trust, led by Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences (Greece).

An acute challenge for the sustainability of democracy is that especially young people express lower levels of political trust and epistemic trust. The European economic crisis in 2009 and the Covid-19 pandemic have particularly increased distrust of politicians and political institutions (political trust) as well as distrust in new knowledge (epistemic trust). The effect of trust described by political science poses a paradox: distrust is associated with populist attitudes and radicalization, but it may also stimulate people to engage in politics motivated by their critical view on institutions. Questions relating to epistemic trust are relevant for understanding how young citizens learn in the complex ecosystem of new social media and how that learning relates to political trust. Applying cognitive and neuroscience tools and theories to these issues WP4 asks what are the psychological mechanisms through which political and epistemic trust motivate specific kinds of political behaviour.


WP5-Social cognition and challenges to liberal democracy, led by the University of Vienna (Austria).

For democracies to function, some level of trust between social groups is necessary. WP5 investigates two cases of inter-group relations: (1) voters vs elites and (2) adolescents vs older generations. Regarding the first, populist parties problematize this relation by portraying political elites as corrupt and unresponsive to the clear will of citizens. As such, they represent and harden populist attitudes of citizens and elite resentment. Regarding the second, political discussions about, for example, climate change and pensions often feature generational arguments made in highly emotional language. In both cases empathy for elites or older generations is reduced and more psychological dissimilarity is experienced. Lack of empathy - i.e. the ability to share and understand the feelings of others - for the political elite and the dominant generation may motivate adolescents to withdraw from politics rather than engage with it. WP5 asks whether empathy induction techniques help reduce the negative feelings of adolescents about political elites and older generations.

The University of Vienna offers excellent possibilities for further professional development and education via the ViDSS (Vienna Doctoral School of Social Sciences ( and the VDS CoBeNe (Vienna Doctoral School in Cognition, Behavior and Neuroscience ( .  


WP6- Identity, engagement and radicalization, led by the Jagiellonian University (Poland).

Violent radicalization remains a distinct possibility and a significant threat in Europe. Adolescents are an understudied group at risk of radicalization. This is problematic because significant radicalization may take place during adolescence, especially because of alienation, relatively low political trust, and exposure to radical micro-identities through online activity. To address this gap WP6 tests the established 3N (need, narrative, network) framework on radicalization among adolescents. The model postulates that when personal significance is threatened or unfeasible, individuals are motivated to achieve personal significance through alternative means, including options that could be extreme (e.g., linking to terrorist or crime groups). Apart from this motivational aspect, ideology and peer influence also contribute to radicalization in the 3N framework in dynamic and interactive ways.  WP6, therefore, asks what is the role of motivation, peer influence, and ideological narratives, on radicalization among adolescents.

The project will be embedded within the Philosophical Faculty of the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, with co-PIs (professors Małgorzata Kossowska, Jolanta Perek-Białas, Lucas Mazur and Szymon Wichary) from the Institute of Psychology, Sociology and Pedagogy, in close collaboration with the Centre for Social Cognitive Studies, Centre for Evaluation and Analysis of Public Policies and the Brain and Behaviour Lab at JU. 


Taken together, our research WPs 1-6 will deliver a concise, integrative and ambitious research programme with the purpose of analysing and understanding the developing political brain of adolescence, offering innovative training to a new generation of young researchers willing to cross disciplinary boundaries and sectors.

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