Martin Debbané

ESCAP 2015 Madrid state of the art abstract, slide presentation and TV interview

Adolescent attachment: from brain to culture

Martin Debbané S4-01 – State of the art lecture, Sunday June 21st 2015. Affiliations: Developmental Clinical Psychology Research Unit, Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, University of Geneva, Switzerland.
Office Médico-Pédagogique Research Unit, Department of Psychiatry, University of Geneva School of Medicine, Switzerland.
Research Department of Clinical, Educational and Health Psychology, University College London, United Kingdom.


In contemporary societies, adolescence has become a topic of serious preoccupation. This concern is brought about by increasing mental health issues in youths, by more frequent physical assaults perpetrated by youths, and by the explosion of violence in schools, amongst other factors. Critically, these factors influence the developmental processes of social cognition sustaining resilience, and perhaps most notably mentalization, i.e. the capacity to understand human behaviour as motivated by intentional mental states (desires, feelings, beliefs, etc.). Starting from the dynamic encounter between post war sociological and psychological factors slowly transforming socialisation processes in youths, we hypothesize that novel attachment modalities arise during adolescence, which profoundly affect the consolidation of mental health or the emerging risk to mental disorders. Critically, the factors involved may exert a detrimental effect on “epistemic trust” as a vector of access to social and cultural knowledge. We argue that the weakening socialising influence of vertical institutions (Family, School, Religion, State, Nation, etc.) and, consequently, the uprising of autonomous social norms in youth groups lie at the epicentre of this historical shift.
From this conjecture, we suggest that a focus on the different levels of analysis (biopsychosocial) relevant to adolescent attachment may help bridge the gap between a historically static view of the biological adolescent to the dynamically changing realities of contemporary adolescents. In its various forms, psychopathology presents an increasingly common obstacle to adapting and learning in new social environments. Beyond symptom expression, the most preoccupying outcome of psychopathology may be the rigidity in psychological and social functioning it sustains, preventing affected youth and young adults from developing adaptive and flexible ways of functioning in increasingly demanding and competitive environments. As the categorical approach to mental disorders will benefit from new perspectives on dimensional expression, contemporary neurodevelopmental models may seize the opportunity for integration with the psychological and social dimensions that are susceptible to sculpt the neural networks towards sustaining health and resilience in today’s youths.

View or download the original presentation by Martin Debbané (pdf, 67 slides).

Martin Debbané was a state of the art speaker at the ESCAP 2017 Congress in Geneva. His lecture was titled: Where mind meets brain: the adolescent body and its implication in psychopathology.