Experimental Psychopathology (“EPP”) is the name of the Dutch-Flemish post-graduate school that unites EPP researchers from the universities in The Netherlands and Belgium.
The school was founded in 1995. Over the last decade around 40 PhD students are annually enrolled and some 115 faculty members from the participating universities, all active EPP researchers, are senior members of the school.
The school’s mission is to provide excellent post-graduate training to PhD students from the participating institutions: workshops, seminars, hands-on training et cetera. We believe that diagnosis and treatment of mental health problems requires understanding causal, underlying processes that drive the problems, and that experimental analysis provides the strongest tools to unravel such processes. Therefore there is a strong emphasis on experimental research. It covers the continuum between basic and applied science, with an emphasis on experimental (clinical) psychology and cognitive (neuro)science.
EPP at Erasmus University Rotterdam
The central goal of the Clinical Psychology research program of the Erasmus University is to understand psychopathology and risk behavior by studying both the neurocognitive mechanisms as well as the environmental aspects that contribute to psychopathology and risk behavior. We aim to understand how these aspects are related to each other and to study how and when these factors play a role during the lifespan.
The focus of this subprogram is on externalizing problems related to behavioral dyscontrol such as addiction, aggressive and criminal behavior, and personality disorders. Techniques such as ERPs, fMRI, and psychopharmacological challenges are used to elucidate abnormal neurocognitive, motivational, and affective processes involved in these disorders. We also carry out clinical intervention studies to evaluate new treatments in this area. In this way, we intend to bridge the gap between the studies of basic neurocognitive mechanisms and clinical treatment.
To facilitate these studies in clinical and forensic populations, we have strong collaborations with various Mental Health care institutions in the Rotterdam-the Hague region such as PsyQ, Bouman GGZ, and Yulius
EPP at Ghent University
The department of Experimental Clinical and Health Psychology at Ghent University hosts EPP researchers of three labs.
Researchers at the Psychopathology and Affective Neuroscience Lab investigate vulnerability and resilience factors for affective disorders in a life-span perspective. Research starts from the basic assumption that a deeper understanding of the disruptions in information processing characterizing affective disorders -how people attend to, remember, and interpret information- requires the integration of findings from clinical, cognitive, and neurobiological research. Affective modifications of experimental paradigms are used, as well as behavioural measures such as eye movement registration. Moreover these methods are combined with neuroimaging techniques (fMRI, PET, SPECT), psychophysiological measures (EEG, ERP), and other physiological indicators such as saliva cortisol, skin conductance, and heart rate variability. To investigate causal mechanisms, methods are used that allow the experimental modification of information-processing biases, such as cognitive training and repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS). Based on our former fundamental neurocognitive research, current studies are focused on further fine-tuning knowledge on the underlying neurocognitive mechanisms of emotion regulation, and on the development of new interventions to increase stress resilience, such as the combination of cognitive training and neurostimulation.
Researchers of the Learning and Implicit Processes lab focus on basic learning research, with an emphasis on evaluative learning (e.g., evaluative conditioning) and learning via instructions. Their research is inspired by a functional-cognitive framework that allows for input from both cognitive (e.g., propositional learning models) and behavioural learning theories (e.g., Relational Frame Theory). This group of researchers also uses and develops implicit measures such as the Implicit Association Test, Relational Responding Task, and Implicit Relational Assessment Procedures.
In the Health Psychology Research Group, experimental research is conducted on attention to and self-regulation of bodily sensations and physical symptoms, especially (chronic) pain. Informed by an integrative model explaining the dynamic interactions between bottom-up and top-down features, it is investigated when, why and how bodily sensations (or signals of bodily threat) receive processing priority. For this purpose, innovative experimental paradigms have been developed, integrating behavioural and psychophysiological measures (EEG, ERP). Research also focuses on how attention to bodily threat can be modified by experimentally testing the effects of techniques and interventions involving acceptance and mindfulness.
EPP at the University of Groningen
Our global mission is to help explain key features of psychopathology that are shared by many of the psychiatric disorders and to translate our findings into clinical applications. Accordingly, we follow a trans-diagnostic approach with a current focus on cognitive-motivational processes and interpersonal functioning. Two central features that are highly invalidating and shared by many disorders are the unintentional / automatic occurrence of (i) negative intrusive thoughts or memories, and (ii) invalidating impulsive/reflexive behaviours. A main goal of our research is to explain the origin, persistence, and recurrent nature of these apparently uncontrollable symptoms; identify risk factors for the development of these symptoms; and to design/ test interventions that may help to reduce or prevent the occurrence of these symptoms across disorders. Thus our program combines more fundamental and more applied (translational) research and follows an interdisciplinary approach to optimally explain these key-features of psychopathology and to arrive at optimal clinical interventions.
To achieve our goal we combine (quasi)experimental lab research with more naturalistic studies using Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA); participate in unique large scale longitudinal studies including the Netherlands Study on Depression & Anxiety (www.nesda.nl) and TRacking Adolescents’ Individual Life Survey study (www.trials.nl); and are involved in many clinical studies based on structural collaborations with Mental Health Institutions such as the in- and outpatient clinic GGZ-Drenthe (e.g., psychotic disorders section), VNN Addiction Care, and Accare Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (center for eating disorders; center for anxiety and mood disorders).
EPP at Leiden University
A large group of EPP researchers contributes to the Clinical Psychology and Health, Medical and Neuropsychology research programme. This programme aims to improve assessment, causal understanding and treatment of mental and somatic health problems. It does so by developing and testing theoretical models, and by developing and testing therapeutic interventions derived from behavioral science. The primary methodological approach is experimental. Within this focus, the program adopts a translational and transdiagnostic approach. The aim is to understand the complex interplay among environmental factors, such as chronic stress, and cognitive, behavioral and neurobiological processes across mental and somatic health problems. This knowledge may contribute to improved treatments and (secondary) prevention measures of mental and somatic disorders. The Clinical Psychology subprogramme focuses on a specified number of stress-related mental disorders: anxiety disorders, mood disorders and somatoform disorders. The Health, Medical and Neuropsychology subprogramme focuses on the psychological aspects of somatoform disorders and other physical health problems. The programme has psychophysiological laboratory facilities and access to neuro-imaging facilities via the Leiden Institute for Brain and Cognition. Clinical research is performed in collaboration with the Leiden University Medical Center and the mental health institutions Rivierduinen and the Parnassia Bavo group.
EPP at Maastricht University
The Department of Clinical Psychological Science of Maastricht University hosts a large group of EPP researchers.
Topics of investigation include: anxiety disorders, eating disorders and obesity, depression, pain and tinnitus, sexual dysfunctions, personality disorders, ADHD, autism, memory aberrations and their relevance to court, and mental disorders in forensic psychology settings. In the spirit of EPP, much research is experimental in nature and targets mechanisms of disorders. This laboratory research uses a range of research methods, including cognitive and behavioural studies, psychophysiological measures, EEG/ERP, fMRI, and TMS.
The step to the clinic is made as well, and various clinical case series and randomized controlled trials are conducted, some of which in collaboration with the local mental health care institute (Virenze Riagg). This mental health care institute is closely affiliated with the Maastricht EPP researchers, and quite some Maastricht EPP members do clinical work here on a part time basis.
EPP at Utrecht University
The group studies maladaptive emotional memories and fears for future events. We focus on how such memories are acquired, how they are maintained and how they can be altered by psychological interventions. Moreover we study behavioral responses to maladaptive emotions and under what conditions they serve to maintain emotional problems. Having concentrated on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, our approach is getting more transdiagnostic and focused on processes that cut across various mental disorders.
EPP at the University of Amsterdam
Two research-groups of the Department of Psychology at UvA participate in EPP: the department of Clinical Psychology, chaired by Prof. Merel Kindt, and the department of Developmental Psychology, chaired by Prof. Reinout Wiers.
The mission of the department of Clinical Psychology is to conduct fundamental research using methods and models from basic psychology to investigate psychopathology, and to run clinical trials to inform clinical practice. Fundamental research focuses on the neurobiological and psychological underpinnings of emotional memory. A second line of research focuses on treatment outcome research – including technological innovations in psychotherapy – in a wide variety of psychiatric disorders. These two research lines are complemented by research from an individual differences perspective (applied).
The department of Developmental Psychology studies both normal and abnormal neurocognitive and psychological development. The Addiction, Development and Psychopathology (ADAPT)-lab, studies the adaptive mind/brain in relation to the development of addictive behaviours and other forms of psychopathology. Studies focus both on children (e.g., ADHD), adolescents (e.g., studies on the development of addictive behaviors and anxiety disorders and novel ways to counter the maladaptive effects of processes in these disorders), adults, and elderly (e.g. retraining of maladaptive neurocognitive processes in addicted patients). A variety of methods are used, including experimental tests on relatively automatic (“implicit”) processes and executive control processes, neuroimaging, genetics, and psychophysiological measures, in addition to more standard questionnaire methods. Studies are done both in the lab, and online. The ADAPT lab developed a number of training-techniques which can be used to supplement existing treatment, which are available online (www.impliciet.eu). Training added to regular treatment for alcoholism has been found to increase one-year abstinence rates with approximately 10% (replicated finding). Currently many different types of training for different disorders are being tested.
University of Leuven
Psychopathology (depression, anxiety, addiction, etc.) and ill health (chronic pain, asthma, etc.) are highly prevalent and have a huge impact on peoples quality of life. In the Centre for the Psychology of Learning and Experimental Psychopathology and in the Research Group of Health Psychology, both at KU Leuven (Belgium), we investigate the etiology, maintaining factors and treatment of these disorders using a (quasi-)experimental approach. To this end, we typically model pathological behavior in healthy individals, although we also conduct research in patient groups. Measurements often include self-reports, psychophysiological responses, and behavioral data. Associative learning theory has inspired our research since we first started and continues to do so alongside more cognitive approaches. Current key topics in our group are fear generalization, extinction, overgeneral memory, chronic pain and dyspnea.
EPP at the Tilburg University
The Department of Medical and Clinical Psychology hosts a group of EPP Researchers whose goal is to enhance our mechanistic understanding of various forms of psychopathology (including, but not limited to anxiety and depression). Our research thus focuses on experimentally investigating key transdiagnostic psycho(bio)logical mechanisms involved in psychological and psychosomatic conditions, and examining how we can target these mechanisms to ultimately reduce the burden for the individual patient. Current key topics in our group include how certain personality characteristics (e.g., intolerance of uncertainty, trait anxiety, catastrophizing) and lifestyles (e.g., stress, mindfulness) relate to psychopathology, how irregularities in threat and reward sensitivity and biased approach-avoidance tendencies may serve as mechanisms of change in improving and individualizing treatments, placebo effects in psychotherapy, etc. We study these topics in healthy, subclinical, and clinical samples using a wide variety of experimental paradigms and by including various behavioural and psychophysiological measures.