Memory in the City, Das Gedächtnis in der Stadt - Globalisierte Nachbarschaft in Europa

Institutions
  • Universität Konstanz
Publications
  Waldhauser, Gerd T.; Dahl, Martin; Ruf-Leuschner, Martina; Müller, Veronika; Schauer, Maggie; Axmacher, Nikolai; Elbert, Thomas; Hanslmayr, Simon (2018): The neural dynamics of deficient memory control in heavily traumatized refugees Scientific reports ; 8 (2018). - 13132. - eISSN 2045-2322

The neural dynamics of deficient memory control in heavily traumatized refugees

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Victims of war, torture and natural catastrophes are prone to develop posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These individuals experience the recurrent, involuntary intrusion of traumatic memories. What neurocognitive mechanisms are driving this memory disorder? Here we show that PTSD symptoms in heavily traumatized refugees are related to deficits in the effective control of memory retrieval. In a think/no-think task, PTSD patients were unable to forget memories that they had previously tried to suppress when compared to control participants with the same trauma history but without PTSD. Deficits in voluntary forgetting were clinically relevant since they correlated with memory intrusions in everyday life. Magnetoencephalography (MEG) recorded during suppression attempts revealed that PTSD patients were unable to downregulate signatures of sensory long-term memory traces in the gamma frequency band (70-120 Hz). Thus, our data suggest that the inability to suppress unwanted memories through modulation of gamma activity is related to PTSD symptom severity.

Origin (projects)

  Augsburger, Mareike; Dohrmann, Katalin; Schauer, Maggie; Elbert, Thomas (2017): Relations between traumatic stress, dimensions of impulsivity, and reactive and appetitive aggression in individuals with refugee status Psychological Trauma : Theory, Research, Practice and Policy ; 9 (2017), Suppl 1. - S. 137-144. - ISSN 1942-9681. - eISSN 1942-969X

Relations between traumatic stress, dimensions of impulsivity, and reactive and appetitive aggression in individuals with refugee status

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Objective:
Traumatic stressors and other forms of adversities, especially when experienced during childhood, shape aggressive behavior. Effects of differential dimensions of impulsivity on the relationship between psychological trauma, reactive aggression (defensive survival response to threat), and appetitive aggression (the pleasure of attacking and fighting) have not yet been assessed.
Method:
Using structural equation modeling, we sought to uncover precursors of reactive and appetitive aggression investigating a sample of 94 adult individuals with refugee status. We were interested in direct effects of childhood maltreatment and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and indirect effects via impulsivity dimensions.
Results:
For reactive aggression there was a direct link between childhood maltreatment and (a) PTSD symptoms and (b) marginal sensation seeking. Childhood maltreatment and sensation seeking best predicted appetitive aggression. There was no evidence for indirect effects of impulsivity.
Conclusions:
Fear-driven response to perceived threat based on inadequate cognitive appraisal is assumed to cause pathological reactive aggression, whereas excessive appetitive aggression can be explained by repeated experiences of thrill and excitement during violent acts. Prevention of early traumatic stress and adversities seems key to breaking the cycle of violence.

Origin (projects)

  Hinsberger, Martina; Sommer, Jessica; Kaminer, Debra; Holtzhausen, Leon; Weierstall, Roland; Seedat, Soraya; Madikane, Solomon; Elbert, Thomas (2016): Perpetuating the cycle of violence in South African low-income communities : attraction to violence in young men exposed to continuous threat European journal of psychotraumatology ; 7 (2016). - 29099. - ISSN 2000-8198. - eISSN 2000-8066

Perpetuating the cycle of violence in South African low-income communities : attraction to violence in young men exposed to continuous threat

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Background: Life in the low-income urban communities of South Africa is imprinted by a cycle of violence in which young males predominantly are in the roles of both victim and perpetrator. There is some evidence that adolescents who show an attraction to cruelty can display high levels of psychosocial functioning despite the presence of posttraumatic stress symptoms. However, the role of appetitive aggression in the context of ongoing threats and daily hassles is not yet fully understood.

Objective: In this study, we examine the role of attraction to violence in areas of continuous traumatic stress exposure and its effect on posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) severity and violence perpetration.

Method: A sample of 290 young males from two low-income Cape Town communities was surveyed. We assessed appetitive aggression with the Appetitive Aggression Scale (AAS), PTSD symptoms with the PTSD Symptom Scale-Interview, the number of witnessed and self-experienced traumatic event types with an adaptation of the Child Exposure to Community Violence questionnaire, and the number of perpetrated violence event types with an adapted offence checklist from the AAS.

Results: Appetitive aggression scores were predicted by witnessed as well as self-experienced traumatic events. Higher appetitive aggression scores resulted in higher levels of PTSD severity and perpetrated violence.

Conclusions: Young males living in the low-income areas of South Africa may develop an attraction to cruelty in response to exposure to violence. Their willingness to fight in turn can increase the likelihood of continued violent behaviour. In contrast to previous research from postconflict areas, appetitive aggression and engagement in violence do not prevent the development of PTSD, but are instead associated with higher levels of posttraumatic stress. PTSD symptoms such as avoidance and hyperarousal, as well as an attraction to cruelty and thus the willingness to fight, might support survival in areas of ongoing conflict, but at the same time they could fuel the cycle of violence.

Origin (projects)

  Radtke, Karl M.; Schauer, Maggie; Gunter, Helen M.; Ruf-Leuschner, Martina; Sill, Johanna; Meyer, Axel; Elbert, Thomas (2015): Epigenetic modifications of the glucocorticoid receptor gene are associated with the vulnerability to psychopathology in childhood maltreatment Translational Psychiatry ; 5 (2015). - e571. - eISSN 2158-3188

Epigenetic modifications of the glucocorticoid receptor gene are associated with the vulnerability to psychopathology in childhood maltreatment

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Stress, particularly when experienced early in life, can have profound implications for mental health. Previous research covering various tissues such as the brain, suggests that the detrimental impact of early-life stress (ELS) on mental health is mediated via epigenetic modifications including DNA methylation. Genes of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis--in particular, the glucocorticoid receptor (hGR) gene--stand out as key targets for ELS. Even though the link between hGR methylation and either ELS or psychopathology is fairly well established, the mutually dependent relationships between ELS, DNA methylation and psychopathology remain to be uncovered. The specific psychopathology an individual might develop in the aftermath of stressful events can be highly variable, however, most studies investigating hGR methylation and psychopathology suffer from being limited to a single symptom cluster of mental disorders. Here, we screened volunteers for childhood maltreatment and analyzed whether it associates with hGR methylation in lymphocytes and a range of measures of psychological ill-health. hGR methylation in lymphocytes most likely reflects methylation patterns found in the brain and thus provides valuable insights into the etiology of psychopathology. We find the interaction between childhood maltreatment and hGR methylation to be strongly correlated with an increased vulnerability to psychopathology providing evidence of epigenome × environment interactions. Furthermore, our results indicate an additive effect of childhood maltreatment and hGR methylation in predicting borderline personality disorder (BPD)-associated symptoms, suggesting that the combination of both ELS and DNA methylation that possibly represents unfavorable events experienced even earlier in life poses the risk for BPD.

Origin (projects)

  Hecker, Tobias; Hermenau, Katharin; Crombach, Anselm; Elbert, Thomas (2015): Treating Traumatized Offenders and Veterans by Means of Narrative Exposure Therapy Frontiers in Psychiatry ; 6 (2015). - 80. - eISSN 1664-0640

Treating Traumatized Offenders and Veterans by Means of Narrative Exposure Therapy

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Violent offenders and soldiers are at high risk of developing appetitive aggression and trauma-related disorders, which reduce successful integration into societies. Narrative Exposure Therapy for Forensic Offender Rehabilitation (FORNET) aims at reducing symptoms of traumatic stress (e.g. posttraumatic stress disorder) and controlling readiness for aggressive behavior. It follows the logic of the evidence-based trauma-focused Narrative Exposure Therapy (NET) with special emphasis on violent acts in past and future behavior. In NET the therapist guides the client by means of exposure through his traumatic experiences in chronological order linking the negative emotions, such as fear, shame and disgust, to the past context and integrating the traumatic experiences into the autobiographical memory. During FORNET we also encourage verbalization of any positive emotions and experiences linked to past violent and aggressive behaviors. This recall of positive emotions (linked to the there and then) is contrasted with feelings that emerge during the narration process (here and now). In this way, the therapist helps the client to anchor the whole range of sensory and bodily experiences, cognitions, and emotions to the contextual cues. Over the process of the therapy we support the client to begin the role change from a violent offender to a citizen, who is capable of living a non-violent and socially adjusted life. Finally, the client develops visions and wishes for the future to support a successful integration into society. Several studies with veterans and violent youths have proven the feasibility of FORNET, found evidence of a positive outcome (recovered mental health, fewer offenses committed, less drug intake and improved integration into civil society), and highlighted the importance of addressing the whole range of experiences while treating violent offenders or veterans.

Origin (projects)

  Wilker, Sarah; Elbert, Thomas; Kolassa, Iris-Tatjana (2014): The downside of strong emotional memories : how human memory-related genes influence the risk for posttraumatic stress disorder - A selective review Neurobiology of Learning and Memory ; 112 (2014). - S. 75-86. - ISSN 1074-7427. - eISSN 1095-9564

The downside of strong emotional memories : how human memory-related genes influence the risk for posttraumatic stress disorder - A selective review

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A good memory for emotionally arousing experiences may be intrinsically adaptive, as it helps the organisms to predict safety and danger and to choose appropriate responses to prevent potential harm. However, under conditions of repeated exposure to traumatic stressors, strong emotional memories of these experiences can lead to the development of trauma-related disorders such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This syndrome is characterized by distressing intrusive memories that can be so intense that the survivor is unable to discriminate past from present experiences.

This selective review on the role of memory-related genes in PTSD etiology is divided in three sections. First, we summarize studies indicating that the likelihood to develop PTSD depends on the cumulative exposure to traumatic stressors and on individual predisposing risk factors, including a substantial genetic contribution to PTSD risk. Second, we focus on memory processes supposed to be involved in PTSD etiology and present evidence for PTSD-associated alterations in both implicit (fear conditioning, fear extinction) and explicit memory for emotional material. This is supplemented by a brief description of structural and functional alterations in memory-relevant brain regions in PTSD. Finally, we summarize a selection of studies indicating that genetic variations found to be associated with enhanced fear conditioning, reduced fear extinction or better episodic memory in human experimental studies can have clinical implications in the case of trauma exposure and influence the risk of PTSD development. Here, we focus on genes involved in noradrenergic (ADRA2B), serotonergic (SLC6A4), and dopaminergic signaling (COMT) as well as in the molecular cascades of memory formation (PRKCA and WWC1). This is supplemented by initial evidence that such memory-related genes might also influence the response rates of exposure-based psychotherapy or pharmacological treatment of PTSD, which underscores the relevance of basic memory research for disorders of altered memory functioning such as PTSD.

Origin (projects)

  Isele, Dorothea; Teicher, Martin H.; Ruf-Leuschner, Martina; Elbert, Thomas; Kolassa, Iris-Tatjana; Schury, Katharina; Schauer, Maggie (2014): KERF - Ein Instrument zur umfassenden Ermittlung belastender Kindheitserfahrungen : Erstellung und psychometrische Beurteilung der deutschsprachigen MACE (Maltreatment and Abuse Chronology of Exposure) Scale Zeitschrift für Klinische Psychologie und Psychotherapie ; 43 (2014), 2. - S. 121-130. - ISSN 0084-5345. - eISSN 2190-6297

KERF - Ein Instrument zur umfassenden Ermittlung belastender Kindheitserfahrungen : Erstellung und psychometrische Beurteilung der deutschsprachigen MACE (Maltreatment and Abuse Chronology of Exposure) Scale

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Hintergrund: Belastende Kindheitserfahrungen steigern das Risiko für Psychopathologie und beeinflussen die Erkrankungsschwere und den Behandlungserfolg. Validierte Instrumente zur umfangreichen Erfassung von Kindheitsbelastungen sind für die klinisch-psychologische Arbeit unabdingbar jedoch nur bedingt vorhanden. Fragestellung: Diese Arbeit stellt die Konstruktion und psychometrische Prüfung der Skala „Belastende Kindheitserfahrungen” (KERF), einem Instrument zur umfangreichen Erfassung von Kindheitsbelastungen vor. Die KERF beruht auf einer modifizierten Version des US-amerikanischen „Adversive Childhood Experiences” Index. Methode: Basierend auf den Daten von 165 Probandinnen wurden mit Rasch-Modellen zehn Subskalen modelliert. Korrelationen mit dem CTQ (Childhood Trauma Questionnaire) und Psychopathologie wurden bestimmt. Ergebnisse: Unterstützt durch konzeptuelle Überlegungen konnten zehn Subskalen gebildet werden. Wir fanden zufriedenstellende Assoziationen mit dem CTQ und Psychopathologie. Schlussfolgerungen: KERF ermöglicht eine detaillierte valide Erfassung belastender Kindheitserfahrungen.

Origin (projects)

Funding sources
Name Project no. Description Period
Fritz Thyssen-Stiftung836/19
Further information
Period: 15.04.2020 – 14.01.2022