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Gene-Environment Interactions in Developmental Psychopathology


Entry requirements

Open to MSc Psychology (research) students


In some cases of psychopathology, genetic disturbances play a more significant role in explaining the disorder than environmental stressors, as is the case in single-gene neurodevelopmental disorders. In most psychopathologies, however, disorders are the result from a complex interplay between susceptibility genes (G) and environmental (E) stressors. A key objective in various scientific disciplines is to delineate these specific G x E factors in order to develop pharmacological and behavioural intervention programs that aim at preventing the disorder or alleviate symptoms in individuals with the disorder.
In this research master course students will gain knowledge about current conceptions in developmental psychiatry (learning objectives 1-3). Students will be familiarized with important concepts such as epidemiology, epigenetics, gene linkage or association, allelic penetrance, endophenotypes and biomarkers, as well as systems neuroscience methods (learning objectives 1-3). In the lectures series, examples are provided of various models that can be used to investigate gene-environment interactions in psychopathology and appropriate research strategies will be discussed. Ethical dilemmas concerning genetic screening will be discussed. Students will be trained to use this information in developing their own research proposal for studying gene-environment interactions in developmental psychopathology (learning objectives 1-4). In active workgroup sessions, students will develop skills in critically reading relevant research papers, comment on the papers, and discuss their pros and cons in order to develop improved research designs (learning objectives 3-4). Furthermore, students will be trained in presenting, writing, and commenting on a scientifically sound research proposal that complies with standards for research funding (learning objectives 5-7). Skills trained in this course (learning objectives (4-7) are paramount to become a successful scientist.

Course objectives

On completion of this course, students will be able to:
1. Demonstrate basic knowledge of genetics and neurobiological systems
2. Demonstrate advanced knowledge of various research designs that can be used to address research questions on gene-environment interactions
3. Demonstrate advanced knowledge of relevant concepts of gene-environment interactions, such as heritability, gene-environment interactions vs. correlations, candidate genes, risk factors, and endophenotypes

And students will have gained improved skills in:
4. Critically reading papers and discussing them with others
5. Presenting research ideas and proposals
6. Writing a research proposal
7. Providing peer feedback on scientific output


For the timetables of your lectures, work groups and exams, please select your study programme in:
Psychology timetables




Students need to enroll for lectures and work group sessions.
Master’s course registration


Students are not automatically enrolled for an examination. They can register via uSis from 100 to 10 calendar days before the date. Students who are not registered will not be permitted to take the examination.
Registering for exams

Mode of instruction

This course consists of:

7 2-hour workgroups (weekly)

The workgroups each address one of a number of themes, based on recent empirical publications.
Each workgroup starts with a short lecture followed by group discussions and paper presentations.

Students are responsible to thoroughly study the assigned readings, which will be made available via blackboard. Workgroup will revolve around discussion of these readings. To facilitate these discussions, students should prepare questions that arose for them while reading the week’s material.

In addition to these workgroups, students will write an individual research proposal, which is due at the last session. During the concluding session, students will present their research proposal. Based on feedback of both students and the lecturer, research proposals will have to be revised in order to get graded.

This course is in English (both participation and assessment).

Assessment method

Grade 1A: Workgroup participation (15%): come to all sessions, take active part in the session by discussing the papers, take a turn in the discussion, and class preparation.
Grade 1B: Presentation + Peer Review: (25%): Present one of the session’s topics and provide an overview of the literature, presentation of the research proposal, provide feedback on the students’ research proposal (both oral as well as written feedback).

Grade 2: Research proposal (60%): writing the research proposal on the topic of your choice and revise the proposal based on the feedback provided by the lecturer and students. Grade 2 depends on (1) quality of the first draft, (2) quality of the final draft and integrating reviewers’ feedback, and (3) meeting the research proposal deadlines.

Deadlines for submitting workgroup products, as well as the research proposal will be communicated in the course syllabus (available via Blackboard).

Compensation between the grades:
The final grade will based on the weighted average of Grade 1(A+B = 40%) and Grade 2 (60%), but each grade needs to be at least a 5.0 to be compensated by the higher second grade. Students successfully complete this course when their final grade is a 6.00 or higher. The final grade is rounded to whole and half numbers, except for the 5.50. For the final grade to be a 5.00 or a 6.00, rounding off rules are:
4.75 or higher and lower than 5.50 is rounded to 5.00,
5.50 or higher and lower than 6.25 is rounded to 6.00

The Institute of Psychology follows the policy of the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences to systematically check student papers for plagiarism with the help of software. Disciplinary measures will be taken when fraud is detected. Students are expected to be familiar with and understand the implications of this fraud policy.

Reading list

  • Flint, J., Greenspan, R.J., & Kendler, K.S. (2010). How genes influence behavior. Oxford University Press. ISBN: 9780199559909 (available via, ca. € 40,-)

  • The reading list for each class will be made available via Blackboard.

Contact information

Dr. Melle van der Molen