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Higher Levels of Intelligence and Executive Functioning Protect Maltreated Children Against Adult Arrests: A Prospective Study

NCJ Number
Date Published
14 pages
Since research shows that maltreated children are at elevated risk of arrest as adults and that higher verbal intelligence, reading ability, and executive functioning (abstract reasoning and cognitive flexibility) may be protective against criminal behavior, the current study examined this hypothesis using data from court-substantiated cases of child abuse and neglect and demographically matched controls followed prospectively into middle adulthood (N = 1,196).
At age 29, verbal intelligence was assessed with the Quick Test and reading ability with the Wide Range Achievement Test-Revised. At age 41, abstract reasoning was assessed with the Matrix Reasoning Test and cognitive flexibility with the Trail Making Test-B. Arrest records were obtained from law enforcement agencies through mean age 51. Data were analyzed with binomial logistic regressions. The results indicated that maltreated children were at increased risk of arrest for nonviolent and violent crime. Higher verbal intelligence, reading ability, nonverbal reasoning, and cognitive flexibility were protective against arrest for violent crime. The protective effects of neuropsychological functions were more pronounced for violent than nonviolent crime, for the control than maltreated children, and differed by gender and race. These results suggest that interventions targeting improved cognitive and neuropsychological functions may serve an important role in reducing risk of crime. (publisher abstract modified)

Date Published: January 1, 2019