»Progress in mental health requires combining etiological and treatment research.«

Prof. Dr. Jürgen Margraf

Mechanisms of mental disorders across the life span

Experimental psychopathology

Experimental psychopathology sits at the intersection of basic science and applied clinical research, and involves the use of experimental methods to investigate the mechanisms underlying clinical phenomena. This allows us both to advance our theoretical understanding of these key mechanisms, and to develop novel treatment approaches targeting them directly. For example, in this working group we use lab-based experimental manipulation of processes such as cognitive biases and mental imagery to test their causal roles in different aspects of psychopathology and resilience. Further, we have developed some of our experimental‚ cognitive bias modification paradigms into simple computer-based cognitive training interventions, investigating their potential application both as ‚stand-alone‘ internet-based interventions or as adjuncts to other treatments (e.g., inpatient) for mental health problems.

 

Psychological and physiological consequences of exposure to mass media in young women

Principal Investigator and Team

Prof. Dr. Silvia Schneider
Dr. Kathrin Schopf
Julia Lennertz, M.Sc.

Collaborator

Prof. Dr. Simone Munsch (University of Fribourg, Switzerland)
Dr. Esther Biedert (University of Fribourg, Switzerland)
Nadine Humbel, M.Sc. University of Fribourg, Switzerland)

Funding

DFG (SCHN-415/4-1) SANS (Projekt #22-12)

Duration

Juni 2014 – August 2017

Background

Repeated exposure to thin beauty ideals is part of the daily routine. Exposure to thin ideals via mass media plays an important role in the development and maintenance of eating disorders (EDs), low self-esteem, depressive or anxious feelings in young females. It is important to elucidate the circumstances under which exposure to thin ideals develops its detrimental impact and to investigate whether these features are more pronounced in EDs than in other mental disorders also related to negative body image.

Methods/Design

We investigated the following key questions: (1) Does laboratory induced exposure to thin ideals (waiting room design) relate to impairments in terms of body image, affect and eating behavior and biological stress response (salivary alpha-amylase, salivary cortisol, heart rate and heart rate variability) in 18 to 35 year old female suffering from anorexia and bulimia nervosa (AN, BN) compared to female healthy controls and to a sample of females suffering from mixed mental disorders (depression, anxiety and somatic symptom disorder (SSD) disorders)? (2) How do moderators such as cognitive distortions ("Thought-Shape Fusion, TSF"), and correlates of emotion regulation (ER) moderate the influence of the exposure? (3) Are these characteristics amenable to change after treatment? Altogether 250 female participants including patients with AN, BN, depressive, anxiety and SSD disorders, and healthy women were recruited in Switzerland and Germany.

Discussion

The findings provide knowledge about the role of moderators influencing the effects of exposure to thin ideals promoted by mass media in eating disorder (ED) patients, patients suffering from mixed mental disorders and healthy controls. Evaluating their differential susceptibility contributes to a better understanding of the role of negative body image in the maintenance of not only symptoms of ED, but also of depression, anxiety and SSD. Additionally our results shed light on the stability of effects in healthy controls as well as in the patient groups before and after treatment as usual. Findings foster the development of tailored interventions including a training in specific ER strategies as well as cognitive restructuring of distorted beliefs about the own body when confronted with thin ideals.

Trial registration

German Clinical Trials Register: DRKS00005709. Date of registration: 6 February, 2014

Chronic Pain: Defence response mobilization via interoceptive sensations in adolescents with chronic pain

Principal Investigator and Team

Prof. Dr. Tanja Hechler
Luca Schaan, M.Sc.
Prof. Dr. Silvia Schneider
Dr. Dirk Adolph
Piotr Gruszka, Mag.

Collaborator

Dr. Christiane Panné-Farré
Dr. Christoph Benke

Funding

German Research Foundation (SCHN 415/5-1)

Duration

September 2015 – September 2018

Description

Chronic pain disorders in adolescents are highly disabling and a significant health problem. Increasing research evidence underlines the importance of interoceptive processes, especially in the aetiology of headache and abdominal pain. We studied whether the anticipation, perception or imagery of innocuous interoceptive sensations can elicit defence response mobilization in adolescents (11 to 18 years) with chronic headache (n=40), abdominal pain (n=40) and healthy controls (n=40). Based on the proximity hypothesis, it was hypothesized that stimuli from the same body region (proximal) are more likely to evoke defence response mobilization than stimuli from distal body regions. Responses were measured using a multimodal assessment approach consisting of self-report and peripheral physiological reactivity, including skin conductance level, heart rate and startle potentiation.