Child Maltreatment: identifying 
Socio-Emotional Consequences 

Project 2 of Theme 4: Socio-emotional development across cultures


Project group

​PI: Monique Pfaltz (University of Zurich, Switzerland).​


Rahel Bachem, Universtiy of Zurich (Switzerland) - Eleonora Bartoli, Goethe University of Frankfurt (Germany) – Shilat Haim-Nachum, Bar-Ilan University (Israel) - Sarah Halligan, University of Bath (UK) - Einat Levy-Gigi, Bar-Ilan University (Israel) - Laura Jobson, Monash University (Australia) - Rachel Langevin, McGill University (Canada) - Chantal Martin Soelch, University of Fribourg (Switzerland) - Tanja Michael, Saarland University (Germany) - Misari Oe, Kurume University Hospital (Japan) - Miranda Olff, Amsterdam UMC (Netherlands) - Monique Pfaltz, University of Zurich (Switzerland) - Wataru Sato, Kyoto University (Japan) - Ulrich Schnyder, University of Zurich (Switzerland) - Soraya Seedat, Stellenbosch University (South Africa) - Dany Laure Wadji, University of Fribourg (Switzerland) - Rachel Wasmer-Nanney, University of Missouri-St.Louis (United States)


The aim is to identify socio-emotional consequences of child maltreatment including crosscultural aspects, and to initiate collaborative research, by bringing together researchers from around the world. More in particular, we aim at identifying alterations in specific communicative and social skills (e.g., setting boundaries, recognizing other’s emotional state from non-verbal signals, expressing one’s own emotions during social interactions), which might underlie interpersonal difficulties and relationship problems that many individuals with a history of child maltreatment are facing. This research shall serve as a basis for the development of clinical interventions that aim at improving social relationship in affected individuals.


Activity 2.1: CM SEC Workshop

An international research workshop has taken place on Sept 7-8, 2020 at the University of Zurich with additional online participation. The workshop provided a platform for junior and senior researchers with various cultural and methodological backgrounds to jointly draw up a research agenda that covered the following aims: 1. based on clinical (psychotherapeutic) needs of affected individuals, discuss and decide on the most pressing research questions that theme 4 of the Global Collaboration will address. 2. exchange knowledge on research methodology, particularly experimental paradigms, to plan scientifically sound projects. 3.   decide on specific projects that will be conducted in the coming 3 to 5 years (e.g., a joint meta-analysis, specific research projects) and plan corresponding next steps to carry out these projects. 4. include study populations in cultures that have not yet received much scientific attention and take into account the cultural impact on socio-emotional processes. As part of the workshop, we have developed the following projects.

​Project 2.1 Impact of Child Maltreatment on Preferred Interpersonal Distance 

Previous studies point to a relationship between general trauma history and a larger preferred interpersonal distance (as one aspect of non-verbal interpersonal signals that might affect long-term social functioning of affected individuals). Regarding child maltreatment, initial evidence suggests that those with a history of maltreatment prefer larger interpersonal distances towards strangers. This project will assess whether this finding can be replicated in different 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) will be conducted online, in various languages.

Project 2.2 Child Maltreatment through a Cross-Cultural Lens 

While the WHO definition of child maltreatment covers a wide range of behaviors, thresholds for what is considered child maltreatment vary in different cultures. For example, in some countries, corporal punishment is considered a valid parenting practice while it is not in many others. Consequently, children in the former countries might be more exposed to physical violence and experience more negative repercussions on their development and mental health. Yet, studies are showing conflicting results in that regard. The aim of this project is threefold. First, it aims to better understand the cross-cultural variations in what constitutes child maltreatment and in the impact of parenting behaviors on children’s development and mental health. Second, it aims to identify the most appropriate means to assess child maltreatment and its effects on mental health in different cultures. Third, it aspires to identify culture specific protective factors, increasing resilience in at-risk populations.

Project 2.3  In preparation.


Results of our research workshop have been presented at the 36th Annual Meeting of the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS), in November 2020.


We will collaborate with other researchers from the Global Collaboaration ( to ensure that data arising from our projects are FAIR (findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable).

How to get involved

Our project and subproject-groups are meeting online, on a regular basis. It is still possible to get involved in our ongoing projects and to also suggest and develop future projects. For more information, please contact Monique Pfaltz: Monique.Pfaltz-AT-