COMPARATIVE STUDY
JOURNAL ARTICLE

Long-term effects of child abuse and neglect on emotion processing in adulthood

Joanna Cahall Young, Cathy Spatz Widom
Child Abuse & Neglect 2014, 38 (8): 1369-81
24747007
To determine whether child maltreatment has a long-term impact on emotion processing abilities in adulthood and whether IQ, psychopathology, or psychopathy mediate the relationship between childhood maltreatment and emotion processing in adulthood. Using a prospective cohort design, children (ages 0-11) with documented cases of abuse and neglect during 1967-1971 were matched with non-maltreated children and followed up into adulthood. Potential mediators (IQ, Post-Traumatic Stress [PTSD], Generalized Anxiety [GAD], Dysthymia, and Major Depressive [MDD] Disorders, and psychopathy) were assessed in young adulthood with standardized assessment techniques. In middle adulthood (Mage=47), the International Affective Picture System was used to measure emotion processing. Structural equation modeling was used to test mediation models. Individuals with a history of childhood maltreatment were less accurate in emotion processing overall and in processing positive and neutral pictures than matched controls. Childhood physical abuse predicted less accuracy in neutral pictures and childhood sexual abuse and neglect predicted less accuracy in recognizing positive pictures. MDD, GAD, and IQ predicted overall picture recognition accuracy. However, of the mediators examined, only IQ acted to mediate the relationship between child maltreatment and emotion processing deficits. Although research has focused on emotion processing in maltreated children, these new findings show an impact child abuse and neglect on emotion processing in middle adulthood. Research and interventions aimed at improving emotional processing deficiencies in abused and neglected children should consider the role of IQ.

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