Theses Doctoral

Childhood Physical Abuse and Adolescent Poor Peer Relations: A Study of Mediation by Interpersonal Factors in Two Developmental Periods

Chin, Erica C.

Childhood physical abuse has been studied for almost 50 years now, resulting in rich knowledge about the immediate and long-term effects on development. For the most part, research has focused on understanding childhood physical abuse as a risk factor for psychopathology, including depression and antisocial behaviors, as such outcomes have clear consequences and costs for society as a whole. However, outcomes related to general social functioning and, more specifically, intimate relationship functioning are also important to study as they may contribute to perpetuation of violence. Children with histories of physical abuse are more likely to have difficulties with multiple aspects of interpersonal functioning, including how they relate to their parents and peers, how they perceive their social worlds, and how they are perceived by others. Given that preadolescence and adolescence are developmental periods when social relationships are particularly important, examining the role of interpersonal factors during these times may provide new insight into understanding the link between childhood physical abuse and later problems in peer relations. As such, the present study hypothesizes that various aspects of interpersonal functioning in preadolescence and adolescence within the domains of attachment, social behavior, social cognition, and social status, mediate the relationship between childhood physical abuse and adolescent social functioning in general and with romantic partners more specifically.
Seventy-five adolescents with a history of childhood physical abuse on the New York City Register and 78 matched classmate controls were studied at age 10.5 years and 16.5 years. During both phases, data were collected from the subjects, teachers, parents, and peers. Problematic attachment to parents, aggression, social misperception, and peer rejection status, all during preadolescence, were expected to partially explain the relationship between childhood physical abuse and adolescent poor peer relations. Changes in problematic attachment to parents and aggression from preadolescence to adolescence were also expected to partially explain this relationship.
Hierarchical and logistic regression analyses indicated that social misperception and aggression were both significant mediators of the relationship between childhood physical abuse and adolescent poor peer relations. Findings indicated social misperception during preadolescence partially explained the association between childhood physical abuse and adolescent social problems in general, and more specifically the association between childhood physical abuse and problematic intimate relationship functioning (i.e., dating violence). Findings also indicated that preadolescent aggression partially mediated the relationship between childhood physical abuse and adolescent general social problems. Contrary to expectations, neither problematic attachment to parents nor peer rejection status was found to significantly mediate the relationship between preadolescent physical abuse and adolescent poor peer relations. Changes from preadolescence to adolescence in problematic attachment and aggression were also found to be nonsignificant mediators. Of note, change in problematic attachment over time predicted dating violence in adolescence. Findings are discussed within the context of implications for intervention and future research directions.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
School Psychology
Thesis Advisors
Brassard, Marla
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
September 3, 2014