Maximilian König
PhD Candidate, Cognitive Neuroscientist at Leiden University

I am a cognitive neuroscientist studying how social support can help young people maintain or regain their mental health following acute stress exposure. My PhD research focuses on adolescents and young adults who have experienced childhood adversity (e.g., abuse, neglect, bullying, or severe poverty) to understand the underlying psychological and neurobiological mechanisms of what is called social stress buffering.

I received my BSc in Psychology from Goethe University Frankfurt and my MSc in Cognitive Neuroscience from University College London. Before moving to the Netherlands, I conducted research at New York University and the University of Oxford to investigate neural and cognitive mechanisms underlying age-related changes in learning and decision-making. More information about my previous research experienced can be found here.

Please note that I got married in summer 2023 and changed my surname from Scheuplein to König.

My CV is available here.

Pronouns: he/him/his

X    LinkedIn    Google Scholar


Approximately half of all young people growing up worldwide are exposed to at least one form of childhood adversity. This includes often co-occurring experiences such as abuse or neglect, parental mental illness, bullying, or exposure to war. Chronic and repeated exposure to these toxic stressors require young people to adapt their neurobiological, psychological, and social functioning, ultimately increasing the risk for later-life mental health problems. However, there is a substantial proportion of individuals that are able to maintain or regain mental health despite those experiences. A growing body of research has shown that the availability of high-quality friendship support is a key protective factor against the emergence of mental health problems in young people with childhood adversity. My research focuses on the underlying psychological and neurobiological mechanisms of these friendship buffering effects.


Journal Articles

* indicates joint first authorship | ORCID Google Scholar OSF

8. König, M., Berhe, O., Ioannidis, K., Orellana, S., Davidson, E., Kaser, M., Raise Consortium, Moreno-López, L., & van Harmelen, A-L. (2023). The stress-buffering role of friendships in young people with childhood threat experiences: a preliminary report. European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 14:2, 2281971.
Article Data & Code

7. Nussenbaum, K.*, Martin, R. E.*, Maulhardt, S., Yang, Y., Bizzell-Hatcher, G., Bhatt, N. S., König, M., Rosenbaum, G. M., O'Doherty, J. P., Cockburn, J., Hartley, C. A. (2023). Novelty and uncertainty differentially drive exploration across development. eLife, 12:e84260.
Article Data & Code

6. González-García, N.*, Buimer, E. L.*, Moreno-López, L., Sallie, S. N., Váša, F., Lim, S., Romero-Garcia, R., Scheuplein, M., Whitaker, K. J., Jones, P. B., Dolan, R. J., Fonagy, P., Goodyer, I., Bullmore, E. T., van Harmelen, A-L., NSPN consortium (2023). Resilient functioning is associated with altered structural brain network topology in adolescents exposed to childhood adversity. Development and Psychopathology, 1-11.

5. Scheuplein, M., Ahmed, S. P., Foulkes, L., Griffin, C., Chierchia, G., & Blakemore, S-J. (2023). Perspective taking and memory for self- and town-related information in male adolescents and young adults. Cognitive Development, 67, 101356.

4. Wittmann, M. K.*, Scheuplein, M.*, Gibbons, S. G., & Noonan, M. P. (2023). Local and global reward learning in the lateral frontal cortex show differential development during human adolescence. PLoS Biology, 21(3).

3. Saragosa-Harris, N.*, Chaku, N.*, MacSweeney, N.*, Williamson, V. G.*, Scheuplein, M., Feola, B., ... & Mills, K. (2022). A practical guide for researchers and reviewers using the ABCD Study and other large longitudinal datasets. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 55(6).

2. Scheuplein, M. & van Harmelen, A-L. (2022). The importance of friendships in reducing brain responses to stress in adolescents exposed to childhood adversity: a pre-registered systematic review. Current Opinion in Psychology,  45(6).
Article Data & Code

1. Nussenbaum, K., Scheuplein, M., Phaneuf C. V., Evans, M. D., & Hartley C. A. (2020). Moving developmental research online: comparing in-lab and web-based studies of model-based reinforcement learning. Collabra: Psychology, 6(1).
Article Data & Code

Book Chapters

2. Vermeulen, S., Scheuplein, M., van Harmelen, A-L., Alink, L. (2023). Kindermishandeling: Impact op slachtoffer en maatschappij. Handboek Slachtoffers.

1. Scheuplein, M., Vermeulen, S., van Harmelen, A-L., & Alink, L. (2023). Child maltreatment and victimization. Handbook of Clinical Neurology: Brain and Crime 197, 147-160.

Science Communication

4. Scheuplein, M. & van Harmelen, A-L. (September 2022). Help your foster child be resilient.
BIJ ONS thuis in een gezin (Dutch magazine for foster families)

3. Scheuplein, M. & van Harmelen, A-L. (April 2021). Building resilience in young people.
Leiden Psychology Blog

2. Science Action and Advocacy Network (July 2020). Memo of support ending the arrest and prosecution of children under 12 as juvenile delinquents.
Policy Brief

1. Scheuplein, M. (February 2019). Learning, decision-making, and the adolescent brain.
Oxford Medium


1. König, M., Smith, A. J., Moreno-López, L., Davidson, E., Dauvermann, M., Orellana, S., McCormick, E. M., Kaser, M., Ioannidis, K., & van Harmelen, A-L. (2024). Friendship buffering effects on mental health symptoms before and during the COVID-19 pandemic: a UK longitudinal study of young people with childhood adversity. PsyArXiv.
Preprint Data & Code

PhD Projects Overview

Project 1: Preregistered Systematic Review

For my first PhD project, I conducted a preregistered systematic literature review to explore the existing body of knowledge on friendship stress buffering in young people with childhood adversity. Specifically, I searched for empirical studies published in English that investigated friendship effects on neurobiological mechanisms in adolescents and young adults (aged 10-24) with childhood adversity. After screening over 4,000 articles, it became apparent that only four studies met my search criteria. Out of these, only two studies directly tested for friendship stress buffering effects, underscoring the necessity for further research in this area.

Published in Current Opinion in Psychology.

Project 2: Resilience after Individual Stress Exposure (RAISE) Study

For my second PhD project, I utilized neuroimaging data from the RAISE study to investigate the neural mechanisms underlying friendship stress buffering in young people with childhood adversity. This research took place at the University of Cambridge (UK) and involved 102 adolescents and young adults (aged 16-26), all of whom had experienced low to moderate levels of childhood adversity. Among other noteworthy findings, we showed that high-quality friendships were strongly associated with better mental health and that acute stress enhanced neural activity in five frontolimbic brain regions, including the left hippocampus. Additionally, we found that threat experiences may interact with friendship quality to predict left hippocampal reactivity to acute stress. However, future research is needed to validate and extend our findings.

Published in European Journal of Psychotraumatology.

Project 3: Resilience after COVID-19 Threat (REACT) Study

For my third PhD project, I used longitudinal data from the same UK sample of young people with childhood adversity, but this time to investigate how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted their mental health alongside friendship buffering effects on their symptomatology. To highlight a few of our key findings, we showed that compared to pre-pandemic baseline levels depression symptoms significantly increased during the pandemic. We also showed that across four assessment timepoints, greater perceived friendship quality was associated with lower levels of depression symptoms. In fact, high-quality friendship support before the pandemic buffered depression symptoms during the pandemic through reducing perceived stress.

Preprint available on PsyArXiv.

Resilient Minds

I founded an international platform for early career researchers studying stress resilience and developmental psychopathology to provide networking opportunities and a forum to showcase current research. Up until 2023, I co-organized and led 38 meetings featuring interdisciplinary researchers from the UK, US, Netherlands, Australia, Germany, Switzerland, and Norway. Resilient Minds meetings take place online and everyone is welcome to join the group.

Want to join the group? Sing up here and follow us on X.
Recaps: Fall 2022Spring 2022Fall 2021Spring 2021