Neeltje van Haren obtained her PhD in Utrecht in 2004 with Prof. Rene S. Kahn. She remained at the Department of Psychiatry as an assistant professor in psychiatric neuroimaging. In 2012, she became associate professor at the same department.
Her research focuses on the underlying neurobiological and cognitive mechanisms of psychiatric illnesses, in particular schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Neeltje has performed a large longitudinal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) study in patients with schizophrenia showing excessive brain tissue loss during the course of the illness. She has been studying confounding factors, such as antipsychotic medication use, illness outcome, cannabis and nicotine intake on these progressive brain changes. Moreover, she aims to unravel the genetic and environmental contribution to abnormal brain volume (change) in schizophrenia and bipolar twin and family samples. This is not only a local effort, using family data acquired at the department, but also involves close collaboration with the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Neuroscience (IOPNN, London, UK) and Neeltje is an active participant in the ENIGMA consortium.
More recently she extended her work to include cognitive social neuroscience in general and self-referential processes in health and disease in particular. Her aim is to use existing cognitive paradigms from social psychology (e.g., self-agency, joint action, social distance, bodily illusions) to understand psychotic symptoms and poor social functioning in patients with schizophrenia and in offspring of patients with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The focus will be on self-processes, self-other integration, and theory of mind. For this purpose, studies in healthy populations are equally important as studies in diseased populations. By using fMRI and sMRI the brain areas involved in self-processes, theory of mind and self-other integration will be elucidated.