Meet Professor Karin Brocki
In this interview, the chair of our programme committee for the next summit; Professor Karin Brocki introduces us to her research, shares an Aha! moment from her studies and gives her perspectives on the rise in mental health issues.
My research lies within the area of developmental psychology and my focus is on children’s development of self-regulation. Self-regulation can be described as our capacity to control our thoughts, emotions and behaviours in relation to short and long-term goals. In fact, self-regulation is one of the leading predictors, beyond gender, socioeconomic status, and IQ, of life quality and health. On the other hand, a poor capacity for self-regulation is paramount to child and adult mental ill-health. Shockingly, however, we know little scientifically about what makes people so different in self-regulation abilities. Some people are really good at this and others are just not. Considering the central role of self-regulation for our health in general, and for mental health in particular, I think it is crucial to understand the developmental mechanisms that impact individual differences in self-regulation and exactly that is the key question of my research.
Can you tell us about any ”Aha!” moments in your work?
I remember one Aha- moment quite clearly. It was during my time as a PhD student when I studied the role of impaired cognitive control or executive dysfunction in children with ADHD. I was walking from the train station to the Department of Psychology here in Uppsala when I realized that in order to really understand the role of this cognitive impairment in ADHD we must take the child’s developmental level into account. In other words, I predicted that the type of impaired cognitive control process would vary with the age of a child rather than being static across development. This may sound obvious, but it wasn’t at that time and no one had studied this before or had a developmental perspective on the cognitive deficits in relation to ADHD. I decided to test this hypothesis in my PhD studies and the results confirmed my prediction. Those studies laid the foundation for my future research in this area and this insight is still important in my work today.
What do you see as the biggest challenges to our wellbeing in society today?
I think one big, important challenge is the clash between the factors that are highly valued in individuals by society and the factors that we know benefit mental health and wellbeing. In other words, we live in a society that is very accomplishment focused in terms of academic achievement, career, appearance, leisure, social life and what not, which results in very high levels of stress and anxiety for many people. These feelings of stress and pressure to achieve starts at a very early age and we all know that high levels of stress is one of the biggest risk factors for mental ill-health. To get a balance between these two sides of the coin is a big challenge in the prevention of mental ill-health.
In your opinion, what will it take to slow down the growing trend of mental health conditions?
There is never simple solutions to complex problems, but in light of my response to your previous question, it is time to realize that our worth as a human being is not equated with what we achieve, and that we need to spread that word to our children from an early age. Other than that, I think common sense can take us far in this respect. To focus on the things that makes us feel good both physically and mentally. Physical activity, healthy food, spending more time with family and friends and less time behind the screen and use our smart phones in a “smart” and healthy way.