Loss of Trust: investigating the relationship between traumatic events, trust and social functioning in refugees and asylum seekers using mixed methods

Currently recruiting

Supervisor: Isabelle Mareschal

Non-accademic partner: Kent and Medway NHS Trust

Studentship start date: 01/10/2024

Application deadline: 05/02/2024

Application details: This project is for Full Time PhD applicants

Trust – the belief that another person can be relied on – is important for maintaining strong inter-personal bonds and underlies cooperative and prosocial behaviours (Cook et al., 2005), Peysakhovich et al. 2014) that define healthy societies. But what underlies whom we trust and why is complicated, with evidence supporting a role for genetic factors pre-disposing a person to being ‘trusting’ (Cesarini et al. 2008). People’s socio-cultural and environmental context, including their social network, shapes experiences and maintenance of trust and distrust (Reiman et al. 2017). Indeed, it is proposed that distrust arises from early life experiences with family and peers who socialize distrust, although people are vulnerable to the negative experiences that promote distrust across the life course and is not limited to childhood. Given its importance in socialisation, trust also plays an important role in maintaining well-being, and distrust can lead to maladaptive behaviours, which, in turn, can lead to social exclusion.

Up to 117 million people will be forcibly displaced in 2023 (UNHCR, 2023). In the UK, there are an estimated 350,000 refugee and asylum seekers (Refugee Action), many of whom have experienced multiple traumatic events that lead to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Theoretical models of trauma and PTSD suggest that a range of social and cognitive alterations occur after traumatic events which affects an individual’s ability to function in society, including a reduction in PTSD sufferers’ ability to interpret other people’s intentions (Elhers & Clark, 2000), and a reduction in interpersonal trust (Resick, 1993; Bell et al. 2018). Notably, such reduction in interpersonal trust can often lead to an increased distrust of others. In some cases, individuals fully disengage from participation in society, including disengagement with educational, health, judicial or social services.

In this project, we will partner with the Kent-wide community mental health trust (KMPT), who work with 3 / 14 refugees, asylum seekers and vulnerable groups who have suffered traumatic experiences. The project will focus on investigating the relationship between trust / distrust, mental health and social function using mixed methods. We will use well validated quantitative methods to obtain measures of trust and threat perception in refugee PTSD sufferers, and pair this with measures of socialisation. We will use these results to guide interviews to obtain a more nuanced understanding of individuals’ unique lived experiences. The ultimate aim is to understand how traumatic experiences affect fundamental psychological processes that underlie trust and socialisation, to inform a more comprehensive theoretical model of PTSD and trauma. A secondary aim is to guide the development of more targeted psychological and psychiatric interventions to help refugees, asylum seekers and vulnerable groups with PTSD integrate into society.

Click here for more details, including how to apply: Loss of Trust: investigating the relationship between traumatic events, trust and social functioning in refugees and asylum seekers using mixed methods at Queen Mary University of London on FindAPhD.com