Date of Award

2014

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Ellen Flannery-Schroeder

Abstract

The relationship between childhood maltreatment and adverse socioemotional and mental health outcomes is well documented in the literature. Children who experience maltreatment are at higher risk for interpersonal deficiencies, social isolation, and posttraumatic stress. The literature suggests that victims of childhood maltreatment are at risk of developing high interpersonal sensitivity, meaning they struggle to appropriately interpret social cues. However, extant research has not focused on the impact of interpersonal sensitivity on psychosocial outcomes among victims of childhood maltreatment. The current study examined interpersonal sensitivity as a potential mediator between childhood maltreatment and friendship quality as well as between childhood maltreatment and posttraumatic stress. Additionally, the majority of the literature on childhood maltreatment to date has not differentiated between childhood neglect and childhood abuse when analyzing childhood maltreatment, despite their differing clinical presentations. The current study examined the differential contributions of childhood abuse and childhood neglect to interpersonal functioning and posttraumatic stress in college students. Participants were 232 college students at a large, northeastern university. They completed a packet of self-reported questionnaires. Participants received extra credit in their undergraduate psychology course for their participation. Participants were categorized into one of four conditions: individuals with a history of childhood abuse, individuals with a history of childhood neglect, individuals with a history of both childhood abuse and neglect, and individuals with no maltreatment history. Data were analyzed by ordinary least squares regressions, MANCOVAs, and ANCOVAs. Results supported the hypotheses that interpersonal sensitivity partially mediates both the relationships between childhood maltreatment and friendship quality and between childhood maltreatment and posttraumatic stress. Such results suggest that interpersonal sensitivity adversely affects the quality of friendship and development of posttraumatic stress among individuals with increasing exposure to childhood maltreatment, consistent with a growing body of literature supporting that these effects exist. Results did not support the hypothesis that abuse has a more adverse impact on posttraumatic stress than neglect, nor that neglect has a more adverse impact on posttraumatic stress than abuse, but did find that doubly maltreated individuals were significantly more impaired on both outcome variables than non-maltreated individuals. This finding suggests that increasing exposure to childhood maltreatment leads to more severe adverse psychosocial outcomes, contributing to a growing body of literature supporting that increased maltreatment exposure has notable adverse impacts on interpersonal and psychological functioning. The limitations of this study and future directions for this line of research are discussed.

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