Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Psychology


Clinical Psychology



First Advisor

Nicole Weiss


Sexual assault is rampant on college campuses, with approximately 25% of undergraduate women reporting attempted or completed sexual assault during college by their senior year. An extensive body of research documents the role of childhood abuse (CA) in conferring risk for adult sexual assault. Despite the abundance of literature supporting the association between CA and adult sexual assault, the mechanism by which CA precipitates adult sexual assault remains unclear. Previous work investigating this relationship suggests that individuals with CA are at greater risk for adult sexual assault due to deficits in risk perception (i.e., the ability to detect threat and respond accordingly). One factor that may contribute to poor risk perception among individuals with CA is alexithymia, a multidimensional construct characterized by (1) difficulty identifying feelings, (2) difficulty describing feelings, and (3) externally oriented thinking. Participants were 365 undergraduate women with a self-reported history of CA (Mage = 20.06, 81.2% white) recruited from colleges and universities across the United States. Our results suggested that alexithymia mediated the relation between CA and behavioral response to threat. This study provides an important contribution to the literature by clarifying one mechanism through which CA is related to risk perception, highlighting important and novel avenues for future research in this area.



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