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Callous-unemotional traits in childhood

In the DFG-funded project "Where is the difference? A transgenerational comparison of biological and psychosocial factors that differentiate subgroups of children with social behaviour problems and limited prosocial emotions" will examine differences in emotion processing or emotion recognition and reward and punishment learning in the sense of operant conditioning. We investigate children aged between 7 and 10 years with and without problems in social behaviour. In addition, we distinguish between children with high and low levels of the so-called Callous Unemotional personality traits (CU traits). CU traits are characterized by a lack of feelings of repentance and guilt after misconduct as well as indifference and bluntness towards the feelings of other people.

The study consists of several experimental tasks on the computer and the use of various diagnostic instruments. We investigate both the children and their mothers under the same experimental conditions. In this way, we try to identify differences and similarities within generations. During the computer tasks, both facial expressions and skin conductance, heart rate, pupil width and eye movement are recorded.

Selective Mutism

Children differ in their behaviour in social situations. Some are characterised by a pronounced shyness, restraint, taciturnity or anxiety. In rare cases children cannot speak at all or only very little in certain situations (e.g. at school) or in the presence of strangers. In a familiar environment (e.g. at home), however, their speaking behaviour is completely uninhibited. The cause of selective silence is a pronounced anxiety, which is also expressed by physical symptoms (e.g. physical tension, rapid heartbeat) in the respective situation. Research into this anxiety disorder is necessary to improve therapy options for affected children.


The aim of this study is to find out more about the causes and function of selective mutism in children and adolescents. Furthermore, we want to investigate how children with selective mutism differ from children who also experience pronounced anxiety in social situations, but who can nevertheless express themselves verbally. Previous research has shown that anxiety is associated with changes in physical responses (e.g. faster heartbeat), changes in attention control, and abnormalities in the ability to regulate emotions. A sound knowledge of the causes and mechanisms of selective mutism is the basis for the development of scientifically proven therapeutic approaches.

Children of mentally ill parents: Compare study

Children of mentally ill parents

Children of mentally ill parents:

Various studies show that parental mental illness increases the risk of children developing a mental disorder themselves in the course of their life. The treatment of parents is associated with positive effects for the children. However, there are very few studies that have investigated this in more detail. That is why we want to use this study to find out how parents with mental illness, their families and especially their children are doing and how psychotherapy affects the children.

The therapeutic offer for parents with children aged between 1.5 and 16 years is the focus of the multi-centre research project COMPARE (children of mentally ill parents at risk evaluation; management at the Giessen location: Prof. Dr. Christina Schwenck), which is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). A cooperation between several university centers for psychotherapy takes place.

In this year's Youth Welfare Report you will find a contribution to our research project COMPARE.



Aim of the research project

The aim is to conduct a scientific investigation into possible ways in which the mental illness can be transmitted from parents to children. Our main focus is on the regulation and processing of emotions as well as the interaction between parents and their children. The study investigates the effects of psychotherapy (cognitive behavioural therapy) on parents and examines whether additional parent training (Triple P) leads to further positive effects for the children. Such a comparison has not yet been carried out. The aim of this study is to gain insight into starting points for preventive measures to break the vicious circle and prevent the transgenerational transmission of mental illnesses.