Theoretical and empirical work indicate that childhood emotional maltreatment (CEM), despite persistent views that it is not as widespread or damaging as other forms of childhood maltreatment, is alarmingly common and exacts lasting consequences over youth and into adulthood. Despite these findings, empirical and social attention to CEM lags behind other forms of childhood maltreatment. With a large, diverse college student sample, this endeavor employed a developmental psychopathology perspective to (Study 1) examine CEM subtypes, (Study 2) document ecological correlates of childhood emotional abuse (CEA) and childhood emotional neglect (CEN), and (Study 3) examine associations between CEM experiences and current functioning on stage-salient tasks of emerging adulthood, with a focus on attachment theory to guide possible mediators of these relationships. First, this project responded to ongoing debate in the literature regarding conceptual and operational definitions of CEM subtypes (Study 1), providing evidence through exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis for CEN and CEA subtypes. Next, (Study 2) examination of shared and unique ecological correlates associated with CEN and CEA, with a focus on family characteristics and processes, were examined. With all predictors in a single model, correlates unique to CEN included challenges to parenting, such as single parent households or children who were raised in foster care or by other family members. Factors unique to CEA included patterns of family interactions marked by hostility and negativity. Finally, (Study 3) examined the association between retrospective reports of CEM experiences and current functioning in three domains of stage-salient, developmental tasks of emerging adulthood particularly relevant to a college student sample, including academic and intellectual functioning, conduct (i.e., crime and problematic expressions of anger), and social competence. Due to a large proportion of, and differences found for, participants identifying as Asian, separate analyses were carried out for participants identifying as Asian and non-Asian (i.e., participants identifying as white, black, or Hispanic/ Latino). For non-Asian participants, higher levels of CEA were associated with both measures of conduct (crime and problematic expressions of anger), but not with perceptions of academic or social competence. For Asian students, on the other hand, CEA did not predict conduct, but did predict academic functioning, especially for females, and social competence. For non-Asian participants, higher levels of CEN predicted academic competence, particularly for black males, and social competence. For Asian participants, CEN predicted crime (particularly for those who had experienced sexual and/or physical abuse) and social competence (particularly for males with a history of physical abuse). Guided by attachment theory, hypothesized mediators of the relationship between reported CEM experiences and current functioning included self-esteem (CEA and perceptions of academic competence), emotion dysregulation (CEM and conduct), and current parent attachment with regard to alienation (CEM and perceptions of social competence and friendships). Findings for Asian students (but not non-Asian students) supported the hypothesized mediation of the relationship between CEA and perceptions of academic competence by self-esteem. Findings across all ethnicities supported the mediation of the relationship between CEM (CEA, in particular) and conduct (problematic expressions of anger) by emotion dysregulation (in particular, impulse control). Finally, the hypothesized mediation of the relationship between CEM and social competence by current ratings of parent attachment was found for Asian participants only. Discussion of results is guided by a developmental psychopathology perspective and includes a focus on emerging adulthood and the CEM context for Asian-identified students.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. June 2015. Major: Child Psychology. Advisors: Dante Cicchetti, Ann Masten. 1 computer file (PDF); viii, 188 pages.
Emotional Abuse and Emotional Neglect in Childhood: Subtypes, Ecological Correlates, and Developmental Tasks of Emerging Adulthood.
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