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Long-Term Effects of Child Abuse and Neglect on Emotion Processing in Adulthood

NCJ Number
Date Published
August 2014
13 pages
This study determined whether child maltreatment has a long-term impact on the ability to process emotions in adulthood, as well as whether IQ, psychopathology, or psychopathy mediate the relationship between childhood maltreatment and emotion processing in adulthood.
The International Affective Picture System was used to measure emotion processing. Under this system, pictures are displayed of people expressing emotions through facial expressions. Viewers' processing of emotions is measured by their accuracy in identifying the emotion reflected in the facial expressions. The study found that individuals with a history of childhood maltreatment were less accurate than matched controls without such a history in emotion processing overall and in processing positive and neutral emotions displayed in the facial pictures. Childhood physical abuse predicted less accuracy in identifying neutral emotions, and childhood sexual abuse and neglect predicted less accuracy in recognizing positive emotion. Major depression Disorder, General Anxiety Disorder, 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 previous research has focused on emotion processing in maltreated children, the new findings of the current study show an impact of child maltreatment on emotion processing into the middle adulthood. The prospective cohort design involved children ages 0-11(N=908) who were matched with non-maltreated children during 1967-1971 and followed into adulthood. Of the original sample, 83 percent were located, and 1,196 (76 percent) participated in the 1989-1995 interview. 5 tables, 77 references, and appended table with descriptive characteristics of the images in the International Affective Picture System

Date Published: August 1, 2014