Überblick über aktuelle und vergangene Forschung im Kindes- und Jugendalter
Kinder forschen mit
Kinder forschen mit
Foto: Shutterstock


Warum leiden manche Kinder unter Ängsten, andere nicht? Wie entstehen psychische Störungen bei Kindern und Jugendlichen? Welche Auswirkungen haben gesellschaftliche Krisen wie die Corona-Pandemie oder die Klimakrise auf die psychische Gesundheit von Kindern und Jugendlichen? Warum verschwinden psychische Störungen nicht wieder von alleine? Und wie genau wirkt Psychotherapie?

In unserer Forschung konzentrieren wir uns auf den Beginn psychischer Störungen – das Kindes- und Jugendalter – sowie die erste Kernfrage, unter welchen Bedingungen sich subklinische Symptome zu psychischen Störungen entwickeln und welche Faktoren diese aufrechterhalten (Grundlagenforschung). Eine zweite Kernfrage betrifft die Erforschung von Wirkmechanismen der Psychotherapie (Interventionsforschung), um die langfristige Entwicklung einzelner Patient*innen positiv zu beeinflussen sowie die Behandlung zu verbessern. Unser Forschungsansatz ist experimentell, multimodal und multimethodal ausgerichtet, um alle Ebenen biopsychosozialer Ätiologiemodelle zu beschreiben. Methodisch arbeiten wir sowohl mit peripherphysiologischen Parametern (z.B. Herzrate, Hautleitfähigkeit, Stimme), hormonellen Faktoren (z.B. Cortisol), Selbstbericht sowie behavioralen Daten (z.B. Performanz, Interaktion). In der Regel werden in den Studien immer auch Bezugspersonen zentral mit einbezogen. Ein weiterer Teilbereich liegt in der ambulanten Feldforschung, um die ökologische Validität von Forschungsergebnissen und somit die Translation in die Anwendung zu fördern. In der Psychotherapieforschung untersuchen wir, welche zuvor als dysfunktional eingestuften Faktoren durch kognitive Verhaltenstherapie verändert werden können.

Informationen für Teilnehmer*innen

Weitere Informationen zur Teilnahme an unseren Forschungsprojekten und zu unserem Team finden Sie hierExterner Link.

Ongoing research projects

Focus on anxiety (disorders)

Title: Dynamic belief updating in the anxiety phenotype: Developmental aspects and salience context

  • Duration: 2024-2028
  • Funding: Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, FOR 5389)
  • Status: in preparation
  • Contact: Julia Asbrand
  • Cooperation partners: Prof. Dr. Ulrike Lüken (HU Berlin) & Dr. Rasmus Bruckner (FU Berlin)

This project is part of the research unit "Kontexteinflüsse auf dynamische Lernprozesse in sich verändernden Umgebungen: Grundlegende Mechanismen und klinische Implikationen" (FOR 5389, Spokesperson Prof. Dr. Tania Lincoln, U Hamburg)

Background: Learning is key to survival when facing dynamically changing environmental threats. Many environments are characterized by uncertainty due to (1) irreducible outcome variability, e.g., when the location of an attacking predator can only approximately be predicted, and (2) uncertainty arising from systematic changes, e.g., when the location in which a predator appears, changes systematically. An adequate consideration of these types of uncertainty requires dynamic belief updating (DynBU), promoting survival by balancing explorative vs. defensive behaviors. This pertains particularly to internal models of threats. Aims: We provide an in-depth behavioral and neural analysis of statistical learning, particularly DynBU, as a function of the anxiety phenotype across the lifespan. Further, the project examines if individual ifferences in DynBU in anxiety disorder (AD) patients can be related to intervention-driven changes (cognitive behavioral therapy) in threat expectations. Hypotheses: (1) We hypothesize an overestimation of how much should be learned from new outcomes (learning rate) in the anxiety phenotype, shaped by defensive reactions. This effect will particularly be dependent on the presence of expected uncertainty. We further assume a correlation between anxiety and learning-rate related activity in the prefrontal and parietal cortex as well as a stronger involvement of the periaqueductal gray (PAG) in higher anxiety levels. (2) We hypothesize a negative correlation between age and the tendency to show overly high learning rates under expected uncertainty, as well as a moderation of this effect by the anxiety phenotype. On an exploratory level, (3) we will test the applicability of clinical and experimental paradigms in a younger group of children (aged 8 to 9 years), and (4) target the relation between DynBU and threat expectations during exposure treatment. Planned methods: Participants will report on relevant clinical information (see clinical backbone). They will further complete the common Confetti-Cannon-Task (comparison across all projects) and a salience context sensitive Predator-Task (comparison with project 5). Finally, an adult subsample will complete the Predator-Task in the MRI scanner which will offer important insights into the neural systems of statistical learning under heightened defensive reactivity in the anxiety phenotype. Expected impact: The current project will enrich the RU's goals, mainly aim 2 (developmental and environmental context influences) and aim 3 (clinical manifestations of DynBU). We will extend the RU's clinical focus by including the anxiety phenotype from childhood to adulthood. A shared paradigm allows comparability across development (projects 6 & 7) and psychopathology (projects 2 & 9). This will allow for developing and testing innovative treatments focusing on uncertainty processing for the prevention and early intervention of AD during a putative second funding period.

Title: Changing cognitive processes based on internal and external cues in children with social anxiety disorder

Models of social anxiety disorder (SAD) in adults have focused on cognitive biases before, during and after social situations, which might lead to a negative self-concept in patients with diagnosed SAD. It could be shown that patients with SAD report more anxiety and worries even before a social situation (anticipatory rumination). During a social situation, patients with SAD often focus more prominently on themselves (e.g., feelings, bodily perceptions, thoughts; self-focused attention). After the situation, rumination processes are found with a focus on negative aspects of the social situation (post-event processing). How these factors are influenced and how they interact – possibly a shift of attention towards internal signals – has not yet been fully clarified, especially in children. Furthermore, based on theoretical models it can be expected that buffer effects are possible (e.g., by social support or positive self-instructions) leading to less generation of negative thoughts. However, these effects have not yet been examined in children with SAD.
Based on current theoretical assumptions of maintenance of SAD (in adulthood), two experimental studies examine children’s reaction towards internal signals and the influence of social and self-support on cognitive processes during social stress.
The project will offer important insights into factors of maintaining SAD in childhood and add to considerations, if theoretical models of SAD in adulthood can provide explanations for SAD in childhood.

More information: hereExterner Link


Title: Hello anxiety! Recognizing social anxiety [Hallo Angst! Soziale Ängste erkennen]

How can we improve the recognition of social anxiety, maybe even remotely? A video-based interaction task strives to reconize social anxiety in a short interaction task, based on vocal and facial expressions. The task is currently piloted in children with and without social anxiety disorder.

More information: hereExterner Link

Focus on new assessment strategies

currently no project in data assessment.

Focus on climate emotions and societal challenges

currently no project in data assessment.

Completed projects

Focus on new assessment strategies (data collection closed)

Title: Psychotherapie im sozioökologischen Kontext

Societal challenges such as the climate crisis, racism, sexism potentially have an impact on psychotherapy and access to treatment. So far, no study has strategically examined psychotherapists' privileges and views on these topics and their relevance in Germany. In a nationwide survey, certified psychotherapists and psychotherapists in training were asked how they perceive these topics in regards to their own person and their job.

More information: hereExterner Link.


Title: Upside down - Children report on the ups and downs of everyday life [Alles steht Kopf - Kinder berichten über Höhen und Tiefen im Alltag]

Economic screening for child psychopathology is relevant in both research and the clinical setting. The Pediatric Symptom Checklist (PSC) is a screening instrument already widely used in the English-speaking world for a broad spectrum of mental abnormalities or difficulties in childhood and adolescence. The aim of this study is to examine the German-language PSC self-report for children and adolescents with regard to the psychometric quality criteria, to test its validity, and also to standardize it.

More information: hereExterner Link.


Title: The body image project [DaKS - Das KörperSchema-Projekt]

A negative body image or body dissatisfaction is a crucial risk factor for developing eating disorders and other psychopathology. However, assessment is not easy, especially in younger children. Building on an earlier dissertation project, we aim to apply measures of body dissatisfaction in children from age 8 to 13 to re-evaluate their psychometric properties. Further, relations to other relevant factors such as psychopathology but also social media and internet usage are assessed.

More information: hereExterner Link


Title: Feelings in Balance - New methodological approaches in childhood and youth [Gefühle im Gleichgewicht - GIG] 

How we deal with feelings in the moment influences how we feel in the long term: Can we reduce or endure fear, for example? Or does it overwhelm us? Of course, this coping or regulation of emotions does not only affect adults, but also children and adolescents. However, the assessment of so-called emotion-regulation is still lacking in children and adolescents. Additionally, children and youths' emotion regulation is highly dependent on the social environment. Therefore, parents' influences on their offspring's emotion regulation is further examined. The study is conducted as an experimental online study using case vignettes with children and youth between 10 and 17 years.

More information: hereExterner Link


Title: Memorylane

In addition to negative parenting behaviors such as overprotection, which seem to facilitate to anxiety (disorders), other behaviors are discussed as potential protective factors. One of these facets is challenging parenting behavior (CPB), which is defined as creating challenges for the child and adolescent, thus creating learning opportunities for new behavior. To date, CPB has been discussed primarily in relation to anxiety. It is questionable to what extent this behavior can also be protective for symptoms regarding other areas (sleep disorders, eating disorders, depressive symptoms, etc.). In an online study with young adults this question will be investigated.

Focus on societal challenges (data collection closed)

Title: Climate emotions/Fighting for Future

Given the climate change, many people feel concerns and uncertainties for their own and others' future as well as peaceful coexistence on Earth. In the Fighting for Future project, the coping mechanisms of adolescents and young adults (aged 15-25) with the stress caused by the consequences of the climate crisis will be examined.

More information: hereExterner Link.


Title: Gesichter lesen - Reading Faces

During the pandemic, covering part of the face (i.e., wearing a mask) has become the new normal in public places such as supermarkets, offices and schools. This is a big change. We will therefore investigate how people encounter each other when they wear a mask. This will be analyzed in both children and adults, dependent on psychopathological symptoms and attitudes.

More information: hereExterner Link.