Our team consists of the following people

Nienke van Atteveldt

Nienke graduated from Utrecht University in 2000 (MSc in biomedical sciences) and received her PhD (cum laude) in cognitive neuroscience from Maastricht University in 2006. After her PhD she spent a couple of years in New York (Columbia University, Child-Psychiatry) to investigate how the brain adapts its processing to the current context and behavioral goal.  Her interest in how neuroscience interacts with society has also been growing since that time, and particularly, that challenge of how we can optimize the educational value of developmental cognitive neuroscience research. In 2014, she moved to the Vrije Universiteit (VU) where she currently works as associate professor and leads the Lab of Learning.

Personal website:

Tieme Janssen

Tieme obtained his Bachelor in psychology and Master in Neuropsychology at Maastricht University. In 2016, he completed his PhD in Clinical Neuropsychology at Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam and is currently postdoc researcher in the Lab of Learning. His research covers cognitive neuroscience in healthy and clinical populations (e.g. ADHD) and neuroscience-based interventions (e.g. neurofeedback). For these purposes, he utilizes the latest methodological developments in advanced EEG analysis (e.g. source-reconstruction, connectivity analysis) and real-time EEG analysis and feedback. He is motivated to translate neuroscience to applications outside the lab. One such example, is a classroom-based growth-mindset intervention in which psychosocial and neurofeedback techniques are combined (click here for details). This study is part of a larger effort to take neuroscience research out of the lab and into working classrooms and other real-life settings, using portable brain technology (click here for details).

Smiddy Nieuwenhuis

Smiddy started her Ph.D. trajectory in May 2017 within the Lab of Learning team. Currently, she is working on a variety of different projects within the group, from an EEG labstudy with children and university students (click here for details) to scanning adolescents while they respond to different types of feedback (fMRI). Before pursuing a higher education Smiddy was a ski-instructor in the beautiful white mountain landscape of Austria. There, a passion for teaching and understanding how children learn was born. After completing a bachelor’s degree in Pedagogical Sciences at the VU University in Amsterdam, she went on to graduate from the master Applied Neuroscience in Human Development at the University of Leiden. Concurrently, she also completed the master Clinical Orthopedagogy at the VU University. During this time she discovered her love for research and happily joined the Lab of Learning team in this pursuit. The overall aims her research are to 1) unravel underlying mechanisms that cause individual differences in motivation and resilience in school; what makes a child a motivated and persistent learner, and 2) unravel the underlying neurobiological processing mechanisms of these individual differences in motivation and persistence.

Sibel Altikulaç

Sibel graduated from Leiden University in 2015 (MSc in Applied Neuroscience of Education and Child Studies) and worked as research assistant for 1,5 years in the Brain and Development Research Centre of Eveline Crone. During this period, she was involved in different research projects examining the development of children, adolescents and adults. She started her PhD in 2017 at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU) to investigate the implicit beliefs (mindsets) of adolescents, which neural processes are involved, and how this is related to students’ wellbeing and school achievement, and additionally, she is studying the influence of peers on this relation. Her interest in (brain) development of adolescence intrigues her, as well as how we, as scientists, can properly translate the knowledge that derives from scientific (brain) research to information that is understandable and useful for lay people in daily life.

Ilona Benneker

Ilona graduated in 2008 for her master Science Teacher Education at the University of Utrecht. In that year she also finished her master Clinical Neuropsychology (cum laude) at the University of Amsterdam. She then started teaching Biology at a secondary bilingual and international school in Breda. She noticed that different strategies in her lessons improved the motivation of her students. It was this motivation that interested her. How could for example two classes with the same cognitive level yet have such a different motivational attitude? How do peers influence each other in these classes? She also noticed different strategies for parents to motivate their children. Some parents were focused on their children’s performance and they felt that the performance of their children was completely out of their hands, while other parents supported their children very differently and focused more on learning. In 2018 she received a scholarship from the NWO (The Dutch Organisation for Scientific Research) to conduct a PhD research project on the role of peers and parents on ability beliefs of both early and late adolescents.

TuongVan Vu

TuongVan holds a BA in linguistics at National University of Vietnam, a BA in liberal arts and sciences at Utrecht University (2011), a Research Master degree in Psychology (cum laude, 2013) and a PhD degree from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (2019). TuongVan’s main research interests are the relations between self-concepts, social cognition, and (social, non-social, and linguistic) learning. During her PhD, she focused on the influences on culture on social cognition. Since April 2019, TuongVan works as a postdoctoral researcher in the Lab of Learning, under the supervision of Nienke van Atteveldt and in collaboration with researchers at the University of Amsterdam and UCLA Berkeley. With the Jacobs Foundation grant, TuongVan along with the group are embarked on a quest for a comprehensive model of the dynamic interaction between emotion, motivation, effort, and performance and its impact on learning.

Alex van der Jagt

Alex graduated from Leiden University with a bachelor in Japanese Language of Culture and a master in North American Studies with a focus on World War II literary/cinematographic history. Despite this odd fit background, he had strong interest in IT and automatization. Starting in 2016, he started as coordinator and data manager for several projects (NRO “What helps against bullying” and ERC “Happy children, happy adolescents?”). During 2017, the NRO project came to an end and he started working for Technical Support for Teaching and Research (TO3) to provide more support on the back end of data collection and also started as data manager for the Netherlands Autism Register (NAR). As of February 2019, he joined the Lab of Learning team as a project coordinator.


Krista Oplaat

Krista (born and raised on Aruba) graduated from the University of Amsterdam in 2014 with a bachelor and research master’s in Neurobiology. During her master’s she also completed a specialization in Science Communication at the VU University. Fascinated not only by the inner workings of the mind, but also by the communication of science to the masses she pursued many projects in this interdisciplinary field. Combining her passion for working with children and applied neuroscience she joined the Lab of Learning team as a research assistant in September 2017. She assists the team on many levels, from organizing and implementing the behavioral data-collection at the schools and communicating to the parents, to coordinating and facilitating the fMRI data-collection of the project.

Patricia Dreier Gligoor

Patricia earned a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and in Pedagogical Sciences, a master’s degree in Criminology (Research Track) and in Pedagogical Sciences and she is still studying for a master’s degree in Clinical Neuropsychology and Public Administration at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Her goal is to build bridges across these fields. Her work experience within this project was a fundamental starting point because of the multidisciplinary nature of the project and the wide variety of tasks. In addition, it was really valuable for her to contribute to this meaningful project.

She started her research internship at the Lab of Leaning in February 2018, which resulted in an assistantship. During this period, she mainly focused on the data collection. She organized, coordinated and facilitated the behavioral data collection at high schools, fMRI data-collection in a Neuro-imaging center and EEG data collection in the lab. In addition, she also arranged and scheduled appointments in the context of the data collection with school and the parents and children.