Theme leader: Monique Pfaltz
Childhood maltreatment (abuse and neglect), or childhood trauma, has long-term effects on mental and physical health. It also negatively impacts social functioning, which, in turn, is closely linked to health and well-being. Projects under this theme explore the cross-cultural underpinnings of childhood maltreatment, examine its influences on lifespan development, and identify culture-specific protective factors that enhance resilience in this vulnerable population. More specifically, we aim to improve the trans-cultural understanding of emotional, cognitive, behavioral, physiological as well as societal factors that underlie mental and physical well-being as well as healthy (e.g. satisfying close relationships) and impaired social functioning (e.g. regarding the updating of social information, the regulation of closeness and distance, or the processing of interpersonal signals like facial expressions) in those affected by childhood maltreatment. Our research shall serve as a basis for the development of interventions that prevent child maltreatment and its negative consequences as well as interventions that improve mental and physical well-being as well as the quality of social relationships in affected individuals.
We are using systematic review and meta-analytic approaches to summarize the current state of knowledge (e.g., regarding the link between childhood maltreatment and somatic symptoms or the intergenerational transmission of maltreatment across cultures), as well as experimental procedures (including peripheral-physiological measures) and online surveys to collect data around the world. We are furthermore working on the development of brief interventions (e.g., culturally adapted videos to reduce self-stigma and improve treatment-seeking behavior in individuals affected by child maltreatment). Our project groups comprise both junior and senior researchers and we are organizing online workshops and outreach activities to support the initiation of new projects and to disseminate knowledge to a diverse audience.
How to get involved
Our project groups are meeting online, on a regular basis. It is still possible to get involved in our ongoing projects and to suggest and develop future projects. Contact: Monique Pfaltz: Monique.Pfaltz-AT-miun.se
Pfaltz, M. C., Halligan, S. L., Haim-Nachum, S., Sopp, M. R., Åhs, F., Bachem, R., ... & Seedat, S. (2022). Social functioning in individuals affected by childhood maltreatment: establishing a research agenda to inform interventions. Psychotherapy and psychosomatics, 91(4), 238-251.
Understanding the link between child maltreatment and somatic symptoms
Aim: The term somatic symptoms is used to describe physical complaints (e.g. pain, functional neurological symptoms) for which no physical cause has been found. Prior research has documented links between these somatic symptoms and environmental influences such as childhood maltreatment and social/ cultural factors. This project aims to advance our understanding of the impact of childhood maltreatment on somatic symptoms in adulthood.
Methods: Currently, the project members are working on a systematic review to summarize the current knowledge about the impact of childhood maltreatment on somatic symptoms and to identify gaps in research that could be addressed in a future (clinical) study. After completion of the systematic review, the group aims to approach these gaps by conducting a prospective study.
Current status: New team members are welcome to join! Currently, we are planning a systematic review and meta-analysis and will soon start with the screening process, for which we are seeking additional team members. If you are interested to join, please get in touch with Antonia Lüönd or Görkem Ayas.
Cross cultural emotion recognition in traumatized individuals across the life span
Aim: Individuals exposed to child maltreatment seem to have difficulties to identify other’s emotional facial expressions – an important aspect of social interactions. Yet, previous research relies on experimental emotion recognition paradigms that comprise pictures or videos of Caucasian faces, focusing on populations from the U.S. or Europe. This project aims to understand trauma-related, potentially culture-dependent alterations in the processing of facial expressions, with the long-term goal to develop interventions that improve affected individuals’ social well-being.
Methods: Children and adults with a history of child maltreatment shall be assessed, using experimental (emotion recognition, emotion induction and other) paradigms and psychophysiological approaches (e.g. facial EMG, electrocardiogram, electrodermal activity). Important steps will be to gain an overview of existing experimental paradigms and to adapt these paradigms where necessary.
Current status: Initial results from Switzerland suggest that adults exposed to child maltreatment have difficulties in identifying positive facial expressions and tend to misinterpret neutral facial expressions as negative, whereas facial mimicry (i.e., the automatic imitation of others’ facial expressions) seems to be intact. We started to examine whether these findings extend to adult Japanese individuals and whether child maltreatment affects the intensity of self-reported and physiological responses to video clips inducing negative and positive affect in Swiss and Japanese individuals. Due to Covid-19 related restrictions, the data collection in Japan is on hold.
Passardi, S., Peyk, P., Rufer, M., Wingenbach, T. S., & Pfaltz, M. C. (2019). Facial mimicry, facial emotion recognition and alexithymia in post-traumatic stress disorder. Behaviour research and therapy, 122, 103436.
Pfaltz, M. C., Passardi, S., Auschra, B., Fares-Otero, N. E., Schnyder, U., & Peyk, P. (2019). Are you angry at me? Negative interpretations of neutral facial expressions are linked to child maltreatment but not to posttraumatic stress disorder. European journal of psychotraumatology, 10(1), https://doi.org/10.1080/20008198.2019.1682929.
Passardi, S., Peyk, P., Rufer, M., Plichta, M. M., Mueller-Pfeiffer, C., Wingenbach, T., Hassanpour, K., Schnyder, U., Pfaltz, M.C. (2018). Impaired Recognition of Positive Emotions in Individuals with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Cumulative Traumatic Exposure, and Dissociation. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 87(2), DOI: https://doi.org/10.1159/000486342
Reducing self-stigma and increasing treatment-seeking related to child maltreatment
Contact: Shilat Haim-Nachum
Aim: This project targets reducing self-stigma related to childhood maltreatment (e.g., shame, guilt, secrecy) and increasing openness to seek treatment if needed. We seek to test the effectiveness of this online intervention across different countries.
Methods: Randomized controlled trial, transcultural online-intervention, including culturally adapted selfie video stimuli. The brief video (~2 minutes) shows an actress describing her hardships resulting from childhood maltreatment and how she benefited from psychotherapy, whereas control participants observe a same-length video where the actress describes her daily activities, without any mention of childhood maltreatment.
Current status: The project is in the planning phase. Data collection will start around fall 2023.
Child Trauma Network is located around the world
See members below
Child maltreatment through a cross-cultural lens
Aim: This project seeks to explore the cross-cultural underpinnings of childhood maltreatment, examine its influences on mental health and lifespan development, and identify culture-specific protective factors that enhance resilience in the vulnerable population.
Methods: Online surveys in various languages
Current status: A first project has been completed (see publications). Data collection of a second project will start around fall 2023
Wadji DL, Oe M, Cheng P, Bartoli E, Martin-Soelch C, Pfaltz MC, Langevin R. Associations between experiences of childhood maltreatment and perceived acceptability of child maltreatment: A cross-cultural and exploratory study. Child Abuse Negl. 2023 Jun 8;143:106270. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2023.106270. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 37301113.
Wadji, D.L., Oe, M., Bartoli, E., Pfaltz, M., Martin-Soelch, C., Langevin, R. (2023). How are experiences and acceptability of child maltreatment related to resilience and posttraumatic growth: A cross cultural study. European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 14 (2), 2264119. https://doi.org/10.1080/20008066.2023.2264119 .
The impact of child maltreatment on preferred interpersonal distance
Contact: Monique Pfaltz
Aim: Previous studies suggest that children and adults with a history of child maltreatment prefer larger interpersonal distances towards strangers, which might affect long-term social well-being.
Method: This aim of this project is to assess whether these initial finidngs finding can be replicated across cultures and whether adults with various levels of child maltreatment also prefer larger distances towards close others. Assessment of preferred interpersonal distance and collection of questionnaire data (i.a., on trauma history) were conducted online, in over 10 languages.
Current status: The data collection has been completed; more than 3600 people have participated. Results are available online (see links/publications) and will soon be published.
Child maltreatment and social updating
Contact: Einat Levy-Gigi
Aim: This project builds on the above-described CM-IPD project and aims to shed light on the mechanism beyond social avoidance in individuals who experienced child maltreatment. Based on our own and other findings of negative responses to social stimuli (e.g., feeling uncomfortable with physical closeness to strangers) in individuals affected by child maltreatment, we hypothesize that – across cultures – higher levels of child maltreatment are linked to difficulties in updating negative beliefs about strangers, as opposed to the intact ability to update negative feelings about friends.
Methods: Participants will complete a performance-based paradigm to test positive and negative updating of information about strangers and friends. The task involves an initial learning phase where participants observe images/facial expressions associated with positive or negative outcomes. The ability to update beliefs is assessed when the learning is reversed. In addition, they will be screened for trauma history, child maltreatment and cognitive flexibility.
Current status: We received the general IRB approval and have started to collect pilot data. We aim to start data collection in all participating countries in January-February 2024.
Additional non-Western partners are invited to join. More information: Einat Levy-Gigi.
Assessing intergenerational continuity of trauma and child maltreatment across cultures
Contact: Rachel Langevin
Aim: Our group collaborates on projects related to the intergenerational continuity or transmission of trauma and child maltreatment across cultures.
Methods: In the short term, we are working on a systematic review which will synthesize the current knowledge on intergenerational continuity of child maltreatment in non-western countries. We are also identifying large existing data sets that could be used to answer key questions through secondary data analyses. Finally, we are preparing an outreach activity in Canada with the following objectives: (1) mobilizing and disseminating cutting-edge scientific knowledge to a wide-ranging audience; (2) fostering an engaging and constructive dialogue between key stakeholders in Quebec's child protection sector and international researchers; (3) formulating a research program for the upcoming five years.
Current status: Our systematic review is in the planning phase, identification of existing data sets is in progress. The outreach activity will take place in 2024 or 2025.
Child Trauma Network Members
Antje-Kathrin Allgaier, Universitaet der Bundeswehr Muenchen (Germany) – Doron Amsalem, Columbia University in the City of New York (USA) – Adrián Arévalo, National University of San Marcos (Peru) – Görkem Ayas, Koc University (Turkey) – Rahel Bachem, Universtiy of Zurich (Switzerland) – Stefanie Balle, Universitaet der Bundeswehr Muenchen (Germany) – Eleonora Bartoli, Goethe University of Frankfurt (Germany) – Habte Belete, Bahir Dar University (Ethiopia) – Tilahun Belete Mossie, Bahir Dar University (Ethiopia) - Azi Berzengi, University of East Anglia (UK) – Jacqueline Bukaka, University of Kinshasa (République Démocratique du Congo) – Julia Carranza Neira (Universidad Peruana de Ciencias Aplicadas) – Deniz Ceylan, Koc University (Turkey) – Marylene Cloitre, Palo Alto VA Health Care System (USA); Stanford University (USA) – David Eberle, University of Zurich (Switzerland) – Natalia E. Fares-Otero, CIBERSAM, Hospital Clínic Barcelona (Spain) – Chana Fisch, Columbia University in the City of New York (USA) – Carolina Gonzalez, University of Southern Queensland (Australia) - Chen Gorodesky, Bar-Ilan University (Israel) – Shilat Haim-Nachum, Columbia University in the City of New York (US) – Sarah Halligan, University of Bath (UK) – Mohammad Hashim, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi (India) – Naved Iqbal, Jamia Millia Islamia (India) – Einat Levy-Gigi, Bar-Ilan University (Israel) – Billy Jansson, Mid Sweden University (Sweden) – Jana (Darejan) Javakhishvili, Ilia Statet University (Georgia) – Dan Jenkins, Stellenbosch University (South Africa) – Laura Jobson, Monash University (Australia) – Saman Kamari, Shiraz University (Iran) – Rachel Langevin, McGill University (Canada) – Antonia Lüönd, University of Zurich (Switzerland) – Nino Makhashvili, Ilia State University (Georgia) – Chantal Martin Soelch, University of Fribourg (Switzerland) – Tanja Michael, Saarland University (Germany) – Yuval Neria, Columbia University in the City of New York (USA) – Jiaqing O, Singapore Institute of Technology (Singapore) – Misari Oe, Kurume University (Japan) – Juliet Nnenda Olayinka, Afe Babalola Univesity (Nigeria) – Helena Örnkloo, Mid Sweden University (Sweden) - Miranda Olff, Amsterdam UMC (Netherlands) – Jörgen Lehmivaara, Mid Sweden Unviersity (Sweden) – Monique Pfaltz, Mid Sweden University (Sweden) – Laura Picot, University Of Caen (France) –Sarah Quaatz, Universitaet der Bundeswehr Muenchen (Germany) – Vijaya Raghavan, Schizophrenia Research Foundation (India) – Muniarajan Ramakrishnan, Mid Sweden University (Sweden) – Vedat Sar, Koc University (Turkey) - Ulrich Schnyder, University of Zurich (Switzerland) – Roxanne Sopp, Saarland University (Germany) – Rosario Spencer, Universidad de Talca (Chile) – Georgina Spies, Stellenbosch University (South Africa) - Soraya Seedat, Stellenbosch University (South Africa) – Tanya Tandon, University of Fribourg (Switzerland); Harvard Medical School (USA) – Dany Laure Wadji, McGill University (Canada) – Jacqueline Womersley, Stellenbosch University (South Africa)
We collaborate with other researchers from the Global Collaboration (https://www.global-psychotrauma.net/fair) to ensure that data arising from our projects are FAIR (findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable).