How does early parental separation affect well-being in adulthood?

Early parental separation and adoption can cause intense and even traumatic stress to the children concerned. German-speaking participants are currently being recruited at the University of Luxembourg for two brand new studies, looking at long-term consequences of parental separation and adoption on well-being in later life. Participants will receive a compensation of 40 euros for their time, as well as individualised feedback if desired.

Today, one in three married couple ends up in divorce, forcing many families to cope with the consequences of a family break-up. Who will live with the children? How should parental visits be organised? Can conflicts between the parents be resolved, and how?

The experience of parental separation

pexels-photo-167300In such situations, children might experience a feeling of being unwanted by one parent, or a feeling of guilt about the separation. The parents themselves might also be overwhelmed with the divorce and all the logistics surrounding it. Every family member is sitting in a soup of emotions which needs time to cool down, although sometimes it seems like it never will. This often creates stress for the children who, especially when very young, might not be able to understand and to cope with the situation.

But does this cause long-term consequences for the children concerned? Only little research has focused on adults who have experienced the divorce of their parents during their childhood. The results of our previous study (Schaan & Vögele, 2016) suggest that adults whose parents divorced, report worse psychological well-being than those who did not experienced a divorce. With our new study we want to better understand why this might be the case, and to find out more about the interactions between early life stress, psychological well-being, and physiological factors.

We are now inviting participants to our laboratory for a session in which we will ask them to fill out questionnaires whilst measuring physiological signals (e.g., heartbeats, respiration). People who have experienced an early parental separation, as well as those who did not, are welcome to take part in this study.

What about early adoptions?


An early adoption is often preceded by high levels of psychological and sometimes even physical stress for the child involved. Depending on the context surrounding the adoption, children may also feel unwanted, rejected or abandoned. The detrimental effects of this early life adversity are well documented, but relatively little is known about ways to deal with it. A loving environment in the adoptive family is usually a good start to overcome emotional difficulties related to a complicated past.

In a previous project called Epipath, we collaborated with the Luxembourg Institute of Health and the University of Trier, to investigate the well-being of adult adoptees in the Greater Region. In this project, we were interested in potential long-term consequences of difficult childhood experiences, not only from a psychological perspective, but also in relation to bodily health and the immune system in particular.

We are now launching a follow-up study, which will help us understand how body and mind can be affected by the experience of an early separation in the context of an adoption, and if there are protective factors that can reduce potential negative outcomes. German-speaking participants are currently being recruited at the University of Luxembourg, including both adoptees and non-adoptees.

Get in touch!

violettaIf you are interested and/or know someone who might be, please get in touch with Violetta Schaan, main investigator of the research project.


Phone: +352 46 6644 9285

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