Antje Hinrichs (left), Johannes Pennekamp, and Lauren Skaliks, three psychology students at Hamburg Medical University currently working on the social research project.

Like Father, Like Son?

Steinbeis experts examine the role of transgenerational transfer in relationship patterns

As the experts at the Hamburg-based Steinbeis Consulting Center for Transgenerational Transfer will tell you, psychology, economic science, and technology are closely interwoven. To meet current challenges faced in geopolitical, economic, social, and psychosocial areas, close collaboration is required on an interdisciplinary level. Transgenerational transfer (or transmission) and its importance are nothing new, but this area is gaining a higher profile thanks to research into the descendants of people who have suffered personal trauma. The Steinbeis specialists from Hamburg are conducting research in this field as part of a project with students at the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences and Medical University (MSH).

“Our feeling is that transgenerational transmission also plays an important role in lots of other areas, not just in fields relating to trauma,” explains Dr. David Dickinson, director of the Steinbeis Consulting Center. Dickinson and his colleagues are therefore thinking broadly – not just focusing on the transgenerational causes of psychological disorders, but also on two other key areas. The first involves examining the transgenerational background of the current refugee crisis, the processes of refugee integration, and the radicalization of terrorist groups influenced by Islam. In the other area, Dickinson and his team want to gain an overview of transgenerational factors in sociopolitical movements since the Second World War and observe future developments. The project manager, Marcus Ruhnau, underscores the importance of such factors: “Transgenerational transfer is based on family and cultural legacies, which are handed down on to following generations either explicitly or implicitly and thus lay a foundation for the identity of the recipient.” Such legacies stem from the interplay between cultural expectations regarding life or the values of a family, its culture, and its behavioral patterns. This is partly due to belief sets and partly due to personal experiences in a society.

To gauge the impact of transgenerational transmission, Dickinson and Ruhnau are working with Lauren Skaliks, Antje Hinrichs, and Johannes Pennekamp, who are all studying at MSH. The students are gathering data for their master theses to examine factors such as lifestyle, outlook in life, and any belief sets that could be transferred between different generations and thus have an impact on a following generation alive today, especially in terms of behavioral patterns and choice of a partner. The data they are gathering looks at the experiences respondents had with their parents and the psycho-social backgrounds of their families.

The aim is to compare the data and recognized experiences with behavioral patterns observed when respondents interact with their partners. The Steinbeis experts are also assessing how stable current and past relationships are or were and the cultural backgrounds of respondents. The goal of the project is to ascertain whether people’s attitude toward relationships and their choice of partner are influenced by transgenerational transfer and thus whether they are dictated by cultural and family backgrounds. The researchers aim to use this information to see if there are combinations of factors that promote stable relationships. This would make it possible to determine whether any of the factors identified in the research have the potential to fuel conflict between the respondents and their current partner. The Steinbeis experts are hoping to use the results of their study into transgenerational influences on relationship patterns to find new ways to offer relationship counseling, partner matches, and systemic psychotherapy.


Dr. David Dickinson, Marcus Ruhnau
Steinbeis Consulting Center Transgenerational Transfer (Hamburg)