Graduation Date

Spring 2017

Document Type



Master of Arts degree with a major in Psychology, option Academic Research

Committee Chair Name

Tasha Howe

Committee Chair Affiliation

HSU Faculty or Staff

Second Committee Member Name

Maria Iturbide

Second Committee Member Affiliation

HSU Faculty or Staff

Third Committee Member Name

Carrie Aigner

Third Committee Member Affiliation

HSU Faculty or Staff

Subject Categories



Child maltreatment is associated with internalizing and externalizing symptoms across the lifespan. Maltreatment often co-occurs with other adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), such as parental incarceration or substance use. Studies have examined child maltreatment and other ACEs mostly independently, and both variables have been linked to poor adult functioning, such as insecure attachments. However, research discerning the unique contributions of maltreatment versus ACEs in predicting developmental outcomes is limited. For example, it is unclear if these connections to adult functioning persist across both early and middle adulthood. Recent studies suggest that maltreatment and ACEs uniquely predicting socioemotional problems. However, other studies suggest they are similar in impact, supporting a general "cumulative risk" perspective. Understanding the possible unique contributions of maltreatment versus other ACEs is necessary for full conceptualization of the ACEs and cumulative risk constructs and may. Clarity of these constructs may inform approaches to intake assessment in healthcare and social service settings by exploring the parsimonious utility of the ACE measure to screen for risks that may derail stage-salient task completion.

This study examined 379 young (under age 30) and middle-aged (30-60 years) adults in a community sample who answered life experience questions. First, participants were asked about 12 different ACEs (household domestic violence, parental incarceration, parental drug use, parental mental illness, etc.). Additionally, childhood maltreatment was measured by asking participants about their histories of sexual and physical abuse and neglect. Participants were asked to describe their typical relationship patterns with intimate partners in order to assess adult attachment styles. Three hierarchical regression analyses examined the unique contributions of ACEs and maltreatment to the outcomes of avoidant, anxious, and fearful adult attachment quality. Greater numbers of ACEs and maltreatment experiences were related to all insecure attachment styles; moreover, maltreatment failed to predict significant variance above and beyond that explained by ACEs. Regression results did not differ by age or gender. Therefore, maltreatment may be categorized as part of a general cumulative risk profile that does not uniquely predict adult socioemotional outcomes.

These findings lend credence to a cumulative risk model, suggesting that the types of ACEs matter less than the accumulated experience of chronic risk when predicting socioemotional outcomes. In practice, this finding suggests that intake/assessment in healthcare and social service settings may better predict future outcomes by tracking a wide array of adversities instead of focusing on specific risks. Moreover, a parsimonious ACE screening tool may expedite the screening process for negative health and psychological outcomes, resulting in more efficient client referral and treatment. Furthermore, similar regression findings between the young and middle-aged adults suggests that the impacts of collective childhood adversity may linger across time, potentially interrupting stage-salient task completion across the lifespan.

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