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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Emotional but not physical maltreatment is independently related to psychopathology in subjects with various degrees of social anxiety: a web-based internet survey

Benjamin Iffland1*, Lisa M Sansen12, Claudia Catani1 and Frank Neuner1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Psychology, Bielefeld University, Postbox 100131, , 33501, Bielefeld, Germany

2 Christoph-Dornier-Stiftung für Klinische Psychologie, Bielefeld, Germany

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BMC Psychiatry 2012, 12:49  doi:10.1186/1471-244X-12-49

Published: 25 May 2012



Previous studies reported that social phobia is associated with a history of child maltreatment. However, most of these studies focused on physical and sexual maltreatment whilst little is known about the specific impact of emotional abuse and neglect on social anxiety. We examined the association between emotional maltreatment, including parental emotional maltreatment as well as emotional peer victimization, and social anxiety symptoms in subjects with various degrees of social anxiety.


The study was conducted as a web-based Internet survey of participants (N = 995) who had social anxiety symptoms falling within the high range, and including many respondents who had scores in the clinical range. The assessment included measures of child maltreatment, emotional peer victimization, social anxiety symptoms and general psychopathology.


Regression and mediation analyses revealed that parental emotional maltreatment and emotional peer victimization were independently related to social anxiety and mediated the impact of physical and sexual maltreatment. Subjects with a history of childhood emotional maltreatment showed higher rates of psychopathology than subjects with a history of physical maltreatment.


Although our findings are limited by the use of an Internet survey and retrospective self-report measures, data indicated that social anxiety symptoms are mainly predicted by emotional rather than physical or sexual types of victimization.

Child abuse; Child neglect; Abuse; Neglect; Social anxiety disorder; Anxiety