Transgenerational trauma in a post-conflict setting: Effects on offspring PTSS/PTSD and offspring vulnerability in Cambodian families

Psychiatry Res. 2017 Aug;254:151-157. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2017.04.033. Epub 2017 Apr 21.


We assessed transgenerational effects of maternal traumatic exposure, posttraumatic stress symptoms and posttraumatic stress disorder on trauma-related symptoms in Cambodian offspring born after the genocidal Khmer Rouge Regime. We conducted a randomized cross-sectional study. N=378 mothers from 4 provinces of the country and one of each of their grown-up children were interviewed. Lifetime traumatic exposure was determined using a context-adapted event list. Present posttraumatic stress symptoms and a potential posttraumatic stress disorder were assessed using the civilian version of the Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Checklist. We found no indication of transgenerational effects that were directly related to maternal traumatic exposure, posttraumatic stress symptoms or posttraumatic stress disorder. Instead, a gender-specific moderating effect was found. Individual traumatic exposure had a stronger effect on posttraumatic stress symptoms in daughters, the higher the mother's lifetime traumatic exposure. There is evidence of an interaction between lifetime traumatic exposure of mothers and their offspring that can be interpreted as an increased vulnerability to symptoms of posttraumatic stress in daughters. The mechanisms of transgenerational trauma in the Cambodian context require further research, as learning from previous conflicts will be instructive when addressing the pressing humanitarian needs of today's world.

Keywords: Cambodia; Khmer Rouge Regime; Offspring psychopathology, children of survivors; PTSD, trauma, trauma transmission; Secondary trauma.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Asian People / ethnology
  • Asian People / psychology*
  • Cambodia / ethnology
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Family Relations / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mother-Child Relations / psychology*
  • Mothers / psychology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / diagnosis
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / ethnology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology*
  • War Crimes / ethnology
  • War Crimes / psychology*
  • War Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Young Adult