Center for Psychosocial… Department of Child and… Research Current research…

Biology and behavior in mother-child bonding

Section of Translational Psychobiology in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

Study title

Bio-Behavioral mechanisms in attachment disorders and impairments in interpersonal functioning

Project description

The ability to form and maintain positive interpersonal relationships is essential for mental health and well-being. Attachment theory emphasizes the importance of interaction between children and their caregivers, as early interpersonal experiences can serve as "blueprints" for future relationships. Recent research findings also suggest that parents and children adapt to each other not only on the behavioral level, but also on the physiological level, for example in terms of endocrinological processes, brain activity and heart rate variability ("bio-behavioral synchrony").

Attachment Disorders (AD) and the Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) are highly relevant mental illnesses in child and adolescent psychiatry, both characterized by severe interpersonal disturbances. Childhood ADs occur in two forms: In case of the Reactive Attachment Disorder, children hardly send any social signals or react to them; in case of the Attachment Disorder with Disinhibition, children show unspecific attachment behavior, do not differentiate between strangers and familiar persons and do not keep their distance to strangers. BPD is characterized by impulsive behavior, instability in interpersonal relationships and difficulties in regulating intense emotions; interpersonal difficulties are considered a core symptom of the disorder. Recent research results suggest etiological similarities between AD and BPD.

To date, there are no case-control studies comparing bio-behavioral mechanisms in patients with AD and BPD and their primary caregivers with those of a healthy control group. The aim of this study is therefore to investigate the behavioral and physiological level of dyadic attunement in BPD/AD-patients and their caregivers and compare them to healthy mother-child dyads. Also, a comparison of patterns of interpersonal correlates on both levels in AD and BPD will contribute to research examining AD as a potential precursor of BPD. Results from the study could form the basis for interventions focusing on the improvement of clinical symptoms by altering physiological and behavioral attunement processes between parents and children.


Head of Research project

Project Coordinator


  • M. Sc. Psych. Leonie Fleck
  • M. Sc. Psych. Katharina Williams
  • M. Sc. Psych. Regina Richter
  • M. Sc. Psych. Christina Wilde
  • Dipl.-Psych. Peter Parzer
  • Cora Wolf
  • Jana Kühn
  • Elisabeth von Berg
  • Andrea Bachmann

Funding / Sponsorship

Physician Scientist Fellowship (Dr. Fuchs) of the Medical Faculty Heidelberg

Project duration

2017 – 2019