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Dissertation

Using Neuropsychological Assessment to Untangle the Heterogeneous Effects of Child Maltreatment

6 June 2019

Abstract

Child maltreatment (CM) includes physical, sexual, and emotional (i.e., psychological) abuse and neglect, and is a pervasive issue in our society. CM can cause a myriad of potentially devastating life-long outcomes. Research has repeatedly demonstrated negative impacts in emotional, social, and behavioral domains of functioning. Recent research has shown similar impacts on cognitive and executive functioning. This study examined the complex interactions and heterogeneous effects of CM on functional outcomes, while tightly controlling for many confounding variables (e.g., head injury, seizures, substance use) not commonly restricted in research. A cross-sectional design was used to establish baseline clinical and neuropsychological profiles of maltreated individuals during adolescence, a period of heightened neuroplasticity when many cognitive effects of CM can first be observed. Performance on validated and reliable standardized measures was compared to measure norms, or age, socioeconomic, and sex matched controls to indicate significant differences. This study also examined the effect of overall CM severity across types (e.g., abuse, neglect), as well as severity within specific CM type on select variables of cognitive performance. Consistent with hypotheses, results demonstrated lower overall CM group performance on tasks of executive functioning. Within group differences were also evidenced by a strong relationship between severity of CM and lower sustained attention. Effects of specific CM type severity were demonstrated where neglect predicted lower sustained attention performance. Study results contribute to growing knowledge regarding CM outcome heterogeneity, and support the need for tightly controlled longitudinal and developmentally focused studies to advance CM research.

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DeBoer_Danielle_PhD_SGP_2019.pdf
7 Oct 2020
Public
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