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Relationships between childhood trauma and perceived stress in the general population: a network perspective

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 May 2020

Linda T. Betz*
Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, University of Cologne, Faculty of Medicine and University Hospital Cologne, Cologne, Germany
Nora Penzel
Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, University of Cologne, Faculty of Medicine and University Hospital Cologne, Cologne, Germany Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Ludwig-Maximilian-University, Munich, Germany
Marlene Rosen
Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, University of Cologne, Faculty of Medicine and University Hospital Cologne, Cologne, Germany
Joseph Kambeitz
Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, University of Cologne, Faculty of Medicine and University Hospital Cologne, Cologne, Germany
Author for correspondence: Linda T. Betz, E-mail:



Experiences of childhood trauma (CT) are associated with increased psychological vulnerability. Past research suggests that CT might alter stress processing with a subsequent negative impact on mental health. However, it is currently unclear how different domains of CT exert effects on specific subjective experiences of stress during adulthood.


In the present study, we used network analysis to explore the complex interplay between distinct domains of CT and perceived stress in a large, general-population sample of middle-aged adults (N = 1252). We used a data-driven community-detection algorithm to identify strongly connected subgroups of items within the network. To assess the replicability of the findings, we repeated the analyses in a second sample (N = 862). Combining data from both samples, we evaluated network differences between men (n = 955) and women (n = 1159).


Results indicate specific associations between distinct domains of CT and perceived stress. CT domains reflecting a dimension of deprivation, i.e. experiences of neglect, were associated exclusively to a stress network community representing low perceived self-efficacy. By contrast, CT associated with threat, i.e. experiences of abuse, was specifically related to a stress community reflecting perceived helplessness. Our results replicated with high accordance in the second sample. We found no difference in network structure between men and women, but overall a stronger connected network in women.


Our findings emphasize the unique role of distinct domains of CT in psychological stress processes in adulthood, implying opportunities for targeted interventions following distinct domains of CT.

Original Article
Copyright © The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press

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