Date of Award

2022

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

College

College of Education and International Services

Program

Counseling Psychology, Ph.D.

First Advisor

Ronald Coffen

Second Advisor

Bradley Hinman

Third Advisor

Jimmy Kijai

Abstract

Problem

A current problem is that although child maltreatment has been demonstrated to be negatively associated with both executive functioning and trauma appraisal (leading to feelings of shame, self-blame, etc.), there is not an established model within the literature that explains the relationship between child maltreatment, executive functioning, and trauma appraisal. The purpose of this study was to develop a model that displayed the relationship between child maltreatment, executive functioning, and trauma appraisal. Additionally, this study sought to discover differences in trauma appraisal and executive functioning based on the type of child maltreatment experienced.

Method

This study employed a quantitative, non-experimental, exploratory, cross-sectional, and correlational design. Data was derived from questionnaires administered to participants who were not randomly assigned to conditions or groups. Participants aged 18-22 years old were chosen in order to acquire those who had more recently experienced child maltreatment. Participants resided within the United States and were administered questionnaires via Alchemer, an online research platform. Participants were screened using the following question, and those who respond Yes were included in the study: "Prior to age 18, have you ever experienced physical abuse, sexual abuse (consensual or non-consensual), emotional abuse, or neglect from a parent or adult who was responsible for your care (e.g., family friend, teacher, etc.)?" In addition to collecting demographic information, the survey measured type of child maltreatment, executive function, and trauma appraisal. Child maltreatment was measured via the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire (CTQ) and its subscales: physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, physical neglect, and emotional neglect. Executive function was measured via the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function – Adult (BRIEF-A) and its subscales: behavior regulation and metacognition. Trauma appraisal was measured via the Trauma Appraisal Questionnaire (TAQ) and its subscales: fear, shame, anger, alienation, self-blame, and betrayal. Structural equation modeling, multivariate analyses of variance (MANOVA), independent sample t-tests, and Pearson correlation analyses were used to explore the overarching relationship and sub-relationships between child maltreatment, executive function, and trauma appraisal.

Results

Upon some revision, the SEM model showed emotional abuse and physical abuse to be the strongest indicators of child maltreatment. Child maltreatment was a significant predictor of executive function, indicating that more frequent child maltreatment was associated with greater impairment in executive function. Child maltreatment and executive function were both significant predictors of trauma appraisal, with child maltreatment having the strongest effect. All child maltreatment types were significantly correlated with each other with the exception of emotional neglect not being correlated with sexual abuse. All correlations between child maltreatment and trauma appraisal were positive. Emotional abuse had the strongest correlation with the betrayal trauma appraisal. The results also indicated significantly more impairment in behavior regulation, metacognition, and global executive function for individuals who had experienced 4+ maltreatment types, which was the most common experience with 23.4% of participants experiencing 4 and 48.5% experiencing all 5 types of maltreatment for a total of nearly 72% of participants experiencing multiple types of maltreatment. Post hoc analyses revealed emotional abuse to be highly positively correlated with behavior regulation and metacognition (i.e., emotional abuse was associated with behavioral and cognitive executive dysfunction). Child maltreatment was most commonly last experienced during adolescence. Results showed individuals who last experienced maltreatment during adolescence reported higher feelings of betrayal than those who last experienced maltreatment when they were age 5 or younger. In regard to trauma appraisal and engagement in a coping activity, it was found that those who did engage in a coping activity endorsed significantly more shame, betrayal, self-blame, and anger.

Conclusions

The effects of child maltreatment are prominent, and the resulting harm can have variable effects in the domains of executive function and trauma appraisal. Child maltreatment was found to be both directly and indirectly related to trauma appraisal and directly related to executive dysfunction. This study not only adds to the growing body of literature surrounding child maltreatment, executive function, and trauma appraisal, but it also serves as justification for clinicians to develop specific, tailored, and individualized interventions to adequately meet the needs of clients who may present with executive function difficulties or a maltreatment history.

Subject Area

Child abuse; Abused children; Executive functions (Neuropsychology); Shame in children; Blaming the victim

Share

COinS