Universiteit Leiden

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PhD defence

The impact of trauma

Wednesday 30 June 2021
Academy Building
Rapenburg 73
2311 GJ Leiden


In this dissertation we examined the impact of different types of stressful and traumatic events on the mind and the brain. The role of structural and functional neural correlates of threat processing in ITCM was examined for the first time using a family study design.

Our findings show that hippocampal volume and neural reactivity to emotional faces and social rejection is associated with experienced maltreatment but not with maltreating behavior. Hence, no neural mechanisms could be identified that are involved in ITCM. While exploratory analyses suggest that abusive parents show lower reactivity in the precentral and postcentral gyrus during exclusion by strangers, our other two neuroimaging studies found no neural correlates of abusing or neglecting parenting behavior.

This dissertation also highlights the importance to distinguish between different types of maltreatment (abuse and neglect) in research and clinical practice and suggests that the impact of experiencing rejection and maltreatment by your own parents goes beyond the family context. It is crucial to raise awareness regarding the detrimental impact of stressful life events that are not classified as traumatic according to the DSM A1 criterion, and child neglect in particular, since outcomes can be at least as severe as the outcomes of A1 traumatic events such as child abuse. Our findings shed a new light on the clinical usefulness of the A1 criterion and the role of gender in the impact of trauma.

More research into the impact of trauma and mechanisms of ITCM utilizing longitudinal designs is vital to decrease the impact of trauma and prevent child maltreatment. Importantly, nature and nurture should not be considered in isolation, because they are known to interact in shaping developmental outcomes of trauma. Studying those mechanisms will bring the field closer to early detection of aetiological factors related to child maltreatment. Increasing insight into modifiable targets should ultimately provide improved prevention and the development of more effective intervention strategies. Bridging the gap between science and clinical practice is essential to ultimately break the cycle of child maltreatment.


  • Prof.dr. B.M. Elzinga
  • Prof.dr. M.J. Bakermans-Kranenburg (VU A'dam)

PhD dissertations

PhD dissertations by Leiden PhD students are available digitally after the defence through the Leiden Repository, that offers free access to these PhD dissertations. Please note that in some cases a dissertation may be under embargo temporarily and access to its full-text version will only be granted later.

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+31 71 527 3282

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Pedel's office (+31 71 572 7211)

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