Plenary Lectures

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Plenary Lecture 1
SAT MAY 26, 17:30 – 18:30

Massimo Ammaniti (Italy)
The myth of the origins and the birth of the human relationality

Throughout history mankind has constantly wondered about the origin of the human species. For many centuries until scientific explanations became available the only possible answers were provided by myths. In origin myths the human birth is often at the centre of scenario and takes on a traumatic character because is marked by the abandonment of the children by parents or adults, an attempt to suppress the newborn babies, as in the Oedipus Myth and in the story of Moses and of Romulus and Remus in Rome.
During the Renaissance the great painter Leonardo da Vinci depicting the human foetus in its proper position in the womb raised fundamental phylosophical questions: has the foetus his own soul or is under the protection of maternal soul?
Today it’s possible try to reply to these questions using the scientific methodology and the new technological instruments to investigate the maternal context during pregnancy, when the physiological development of an individual is embedded so deeply in the physiological adaptation of another. The maternal context is explored considering the foetus physiological  markers, as the foetal heart responses to maternal voice, the sensitivity to touch, the motor cognition, which could predate the emergence of social behavior. It will be discussed the motor cognition hypothesis which suggests the ontogenetic understanding based upon motor system, confirmed also by the recent neurobiological discovery of the Mirror Neuron System. This process is coupled by the affiliation attitudes and behaviors of the caregivers that initiate during pregnancy and continue after birth.





Plenary Lecture 2
SUN MAY 27, 09:00-10:15

Jay Belsky (United States)
Differential Susceptibility to Environmental Influences: Intervention Evidence

It is widely appreciated that intervention efforts vary in their efficacy, even within generally effective trials and services. Such heterogeneity in efficacy is often, even perhaps typically, attributed to variation in implementation fidelity. Differential-susceptibility theorizing stipulates, however, that much such variation in intervention efficacy is due to the fact that individuals vary in their susceptibility to environmental influences, including intervention ones. Moreover, it stipulates that those very individuals most vulnerable to adversity—for temperamental, physiological and/or genetic reasons—are also most likely to benefit from contextual support and enrichment. In this talk, theory and observational evidence consistent with this claim is reviewed, before turning attention to experimental-intervention evidence indicating the same. Indeed, the work to be presented will reveal that children who are more temperamentally difficult, especially as infants and toddlers, and who are more physiologically reactive and/or carry certain “plasticity” alleles are disproportionately likely to benefit from a variety of intervention programs. Implications of this research are highlighted, especially with respect to the issue of targeting particularly susceptible individuals when resources are limited. And this will raise the issues of efficacy and equity when it comes to the provision of services.


Plenary Lecture 3
MON MAY 28, 09:00-10:15

Hasse Karlsson (Finland)
Effects of Prenatal Stress on Child Brain Development – Implications for Later Health
Accumulating evidence shows that exposure to early life stress (ELS) sets in motion trajectories by influencing the psychobiological programming of the developing brain with negative health consequences persisting to adulthood. Prenatal stress (PS), such as maternal anxiety and depression during the pregnancy, reportedly also affects fetal central nervous system via different biological pathways. Exposure to PS is related to altered development of  important regulatory functions of child stress reactions, emotional states, and attention as well as elevated risk for some pediatric conditions, such as asthma and obesity. There is also evidence that the brain effects of PS persist into adulthood and increases the offspring risk for depression. However, some of the effects of PS may increase resilience. Thus, the nature and timing of the stress exposure as well as individual vulnerability and resilience factors needs more research. A totally new concept is transgenerational epigenetic inheritance through the male germline which is one mechanism linking paternal early stress experiences with next generation outcomes. In the talk, I will also cover current knowledge on the effects of paternal ELS on next generation infant brain development.
We have collected a large pregnancy cohort ( focusing on the effects of early stress exposure and performed repeated assessments (eg. multimodal brain imaging (MRI, NIRS, EEG), collection of biological samples (eg. blood, faeces, hair, saliva, breast milk), neuropsychological assessments, child-parent interaction, questionnaires) during pregnancy, infancy, and early childhood. The first cohort children turn 6 years in summer 2018 and follow-up of the cohort has been planned to continue for several decades. I will present some main findings of this project in the talk.


Plenary Lecture 4
TUE MAY 29, 09:00-10:15
Jenny Radesky (United States)
Digital Media and the Dyad 

Digital media have experienced their most rapid evolution over the past 10 years, with the introduction of mobile and interactive platforms that have drastically changed children and parents’ relationships with media.  Dr. Radesky’s research uses a developmental lens to examine media use in families, with a particular emphasis on associations of media use with parent-child interaction dynamics, child temperament and self-regulation, and psychosocial stress.  She will discuss parent mobile device use and how it effects parents’ engagement with young children during family routines; parent emotional, attentional, and cognitive experiences of mobile device use during family time; associations of frequent parent mobile device use with reflective functioning and mentalization abilities; and relevance for clinical guidance and digital design.  In addition, this talk will examine how characteristics of young children predict and modify their media use habits, such as preferences for highly gamified design, frequent use of mobile devices for calming purposes, and effects of digital attention management and distractions such as in-app advertisements.  Dr. Radesky will also review results from several new studies showing how persuasive design makes it more difficult for parents to scaffold children in digital play experiences.  Finally, opportunities for clinical intervention and advocacy around digital media across several different social contexts will be discussed.