The topic: IP-PAD (Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Politics of Adolescence & Democracy) is a Doctoral Network that aims to address a timely, pressing societal issue, namely the understanding of how the developing cognition and brain of young adolescents influences how they process political information and their political behaviour.
Its importance: Youth engagement with politics has always been crucial for the future of democracy as the adolescents of today become the voting citizens of tomorrow. Globally as well as in Europe, youth satisfaction with democracy is declining, both in absolute terms but also relative to how older generations felt at the same stages in life2. This dissatisfaction may push youngsters towards apathy and abstention or towards radicalized attitudes, populism, identification with fringe groups, and deep engagement with disinformation. Both scenarios raise concerns about the future of liberal democracies in Europe.
The problem: Adolescence is a critical developmental period, the onset of which is defined biologically but the end of which is defined culturally. Political science has described in-depth youth political (dis)engagement but it lacks an understanding of the underlying mechanisms which produce it. Developmental psychology and neuroscience can address this problem because it has the tools and theories to understand how adolescents process social information, exert cognitive and self-control, regulate their emotions and engage in prospective cognition. However, developmental psychology and neuroscience have largely ignored the question of how the developing brain processes political information. While prolific in their own respect, these two perspectives have till now been kept separate. IP-PAD argues that a rigorous understanding of how adolescents process political information requires the integration of these two strands.
Our approach: IP-PAD will integrate for the first time, in systematic, rigorous and mutually beneficial ways, two areas of research: the rich literature on youth political engagement from the perspective of political and social sciences and the insights we have obtained from the emerging field of developmental neuroscience on the wide-ranging changes that occur in the adolescent brain. IP-PAD aims to study and understand how the developing adolescent brain in the different sociopolitical contexts of five European countries underpins the emergence of the social, and eventually, political self of Generation Alpha.