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You are here: Home Publications CENs Bibliography Association of Childhood Maltreatment With Interpersonal Distance and Social Touch Preferences in Adulthood

Ayline Maier, Caroline Gieling, Luca Heinen-Ludwig, Vlad Stefan, Johannes Schultz, Onur Güntürkün, Benjamin Becker, René Hurlemann, and Dirk Scheele (2019)

Association of Childhood Maltreatment With Interpersonal Distance and Social Touch Preferences in Adulthood

American Journal of Psychiatry(10):appi.ajp.2019.1--appi.ajp.2019.1.

Objective: Childhood maltreatment is a major risk factor for psychopathology associated with interpersonal problems in adulthood, but the etiological pathways involved are still unclear. The authors propose that childhood maltreatment confers risk for dysfunctional behavior in social interactions by altering interpersonal distance preference and the pro- cessing of social touch. Methods: Ninety-two medication-free adults (64 of them female) with low, medium, and high levels of childhood maltreatment were tested with an interpersonal distance par- adigm and subsequently underwent a social touch functional MRI task during which they rated the perceived comfort of slow touch (C-tactile [CT] optimal speed; 5 cm/s) and fast touch (non-CT-optimal speed; 20 cm/s). Results: Participants with high childhood maltreatment levels preferred a larger interpersonal distance and experienced fast touch as less comforting comparedwith participants with no or moderate childhood maltreatment experiences. On the neural level, participants with severe childhood maltreatment ex- hibited exaggerated responses to fast touch in the right so- matosensory and posterior insular cortex, which correlated with lower comfort ratings. Severe childhood maltreatment was associated with decreased activation in the right hippo- campus in response to slow touch. This response pattern was not moderated or mediated by childhood maltreatment– associated region-specific reductions in gray matter volume. Conclusions: The study findings suggest that higher child- hood maltreatment levels are associated with hypersensi- tivity characterized by a preference for larger interpersonal distance and discomfort of fast touch. These dysregulations were manifested in a sensory cortical hyperreactivity and limbic CT-related hypoactivation. These results may shed light on why individuals with severe childhood maltreatment exhibit an increased susceptibility to interpersonal dysfunc- tions and psychiatric disorders in adulthood.

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