1. Exposure to psychological domestic abuse most damaging to children’s wellbeing

    May 23, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Limerick press release:

    Exposure to psychological abuse between parents is more damaging to children’s wellbeing as they grow older than physical domestic violence, according to new research carried out at University of Limerick (UL), Ireland.

    A scientific paper by UL’s Catherine Naughton, Aisling O’Donnell and Orla Muldoon was recently published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence. It illustrates that growing up in a home with psychological abuse has longer-term effects on the wellbeing of young people than domestic violence.

    Ms Naughton’s research investigated how children’s exposure to domestic violence and abuse between their parents affects them as young people.

    Psychological abuse can include, name-calling, intimidation, isolation, manipulation and control.

    According to Ms Naughton, “What this research highlights is that growing up in a home with domestic abuse, in particular the psychological dimension of it, has long-term consequences for the wellbeing of young people.”

    “Our research found that young people (aged 17 to 25 years) reported experiencing two distinct yet interrelated types of domestic abuse in their families of origin: physical which includes hitting, punching, kicking and use of a weapon; and, psychological abuse including arguing, name-calling or behaviour that is intimidating, isolating, manipulating or controlling. Importantly, our findings show that it was young people’s exposure to the psychological dimension of domestic abuse, which had a detrimental impact on their psychological wellbeing. Exposure to the physical dimension did not have any additional negative effect on wellbeing,” Ms Naughton stated.

    “We know that social support is important for recovery from traumatic childhood events. However, our findings evidence that exposure to high levels of psychological domestic abuse was associated with a decrease in young people’s satisfaction with their social support. On the other hand, we also found that exposure to high levels of physical domestic violence has a protective effect in terms of satisfaction with social support for those also exposed to high levels of intra-parental psychological abuse. When children were exposed to physical violence in the home as well as psychological domestic abuse, they were more likely to be happier with the social support they were able to access. Psychological domestic abuse when it occurred alone seems to be the most damaging, perhaps because people are unable to recognise and speak out about it,” she continued.

    “This research examines the impact of psychological abuse in the home on Irish children as they grow older, but it also shows there is a need for more research in the area to assess the impacts of exposure to all types of domestic violence and abuse on younger children,” Ms Naughton concluded.


  2. How focusing on parent-child relationships can prevent child maltreatment

    May 21, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Notre Dame press release:

    Child abuse and neglect is a widespread and costly problem in the United States. Approximately 3.9 million children were subjects of maltreatment reports to child welfare agencies in 2013. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, child abuse and neglect cost the U.S. $124 billion in 2012.

    In order to help children facing maltreatment, researchers and clinicians first needed to address the heart of the problem. The relationship between the parent and child is key, argues Kristin Valentino, William J. Shaw Center for Children and Families Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Notre Dame, in an article published recently in a special section of the journal Child Development.

    More than 90 percent of maltreated children are victimized by one or both parents, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “My position is that child maltreatment, in most cases, can best be understood as a problem in the parent-child relationship,” Valentino says. “Thus, we should focus on enhancing the parent-child relationship in our intervention efforts.”

    Two broad kinds of relational interventions between parents and children are available to researchers and clinicians. In her article, Valentino examines brief models and long-term models, both designed to improve not only how well parents understand their children and how to react to them, but also the child’s attachment security. The latter plays a critical role in supporting positive development, including coping skills, emotional and behavioral functioning, peer relationships and even physical health.

    Children who are neglected, abused or otherwise mistreated often develop emotional problems, Valentino says: “Up to 80 to 90 percent of maltreated children develop what is known as disorganized attachment. This classification is one type of insecure attachment and is associated with the worst outcomes including severe problems in emotion regulation, school achievement and the development of psychopathology.”

    Valentino reviews the pros and cons of brief and long-term intervention methods, and conclusively recommends a tiered approach wherein families are provided with brief interventions first, and subsequent long-term approaches if needed.

    “Given limitations on resources and funds to support treatment in the child welfare system, this approach would allow us to provide services to more families, and to identify families who should be referred to more intensive programs in a targeted manner,” Valentino says.

    Valentino is a clinical and developmental psychologist who conducts research with families through Notre Dame’s Shaw Center for Children and Families. Her current research focuses on evaluating the effectiveness of a brief relational intervention for maltreated preschool-aged children and their mothers in a randomized clinical trial design.


  3. Abusing power hurts leaders too

    May 14, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Florida press release:

    We know that power can corrupt, making people act in ways that harm others. But new research from the University of Florida shows that when the powerful misbehave, they hurt themselves, too.

    “We always think those who have power are better off, but having power is not universally or exclusively good for the power holder,” said Trevor Foulk, who led the research as a doctoral student at UF’s Warrington College of Business and will start as an assistant professor in the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business in June.

    Foulk and fellow Warrington researchers Klodiana Lanaj, Min-Hsuan Tu, Amir Erez and Lindy Archambeau found that leaders who acted abusively to colleagues had trouble relaxing after work and were less likely to feel competent, respected and autonomous in the workplace. The findings, published in the Academy of Management Journal, stemmed from surveys of 116 leaders in fields including engineering, medicine, education and banking over a three-week span.

    Rather than structural power – a leader’s position in the hierarchy – the study looked at psychological power, or how powerful a leader feels, which changes as they move through the workday. When leaders felt powerful, they were more likely to act abusively and perceive more incivility from their coworkers, which in turn harmed their own well-being.

    “This flips the script on abusive leadership,” Foulk said. “We tend to assume that powerful people just go around and abuse and they’re totally fine with it, but the effect of power on the power holder is more complex than that.”

    Side-stepping the negative effects of power might require us to rethink the qualities we look for in a leader. Foulk’s study suggests that agreeable leaders – those who value social closeness, positive relationships and workplace harmony – may be less susceptible to the misbehavior brought on by psychological power.

    It’s also possible that, over time, the consequences of psychological power are self-correcting. If a leader acts abusively, then goes home and feels bad about it, he or she might come back to work the next day feeling less powerful and behave better – a phenomenon Foulk is studying for a future paper.

    Although a boss who yells, curses or belittles might not seem to deserve our sympathy, “they’re suffering, too,” Foulk says. “Even though your boss may seem like a jerk, they’re reacting to a situation in a way many of us would if we were in power. It’s not necessarily that they’re monsters.”


  4. Study links childhood abuse to higher incidence of self-injury in teens

    May 12, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Toronto press release:

    Adolescents who were physically abused or sexually abused were more likely to engage in non-suicidal self-injury than their non-abused counterparts, according to a new study from researchers at the University of Toronto and Western University. The study appears online in the journal Child Abuse & Neglect.

    “We found that about one in three adolescents with mental health problems in Ontario engaged in non-suicidal self-injury. We were surprised to find that only the experience of adversities directed towards the child (physical and sexual abuse) predicted non-suicidal self-injury and not adversities indicative of parental risk such as parental mental health issues or exposure to domestic violence” says lead author Philip Baiden, a PhD Candidate at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, University of Toronto. Controlling for other factors, the authors also found that adolescents who are females, had symptoms of depression, diagnosis of ADHD, and mood disorders were more likely to engage in non-suicidal self-injury. However, adolescents who have someone that they could turn to for emotional support when in crises were less likely to engage in non-suicidal self-injury.

    The researchers utilized data from a representative sample of 2,038 children and adolescents aged 8-18 years referred to community and inpatient mental health settings in Ontario. The data was collected using the interRAI Child and Youth Mental Health assessment instrument.

    “Depression is one indication that an individual is having difficulty coping with his/her life situation and being depressed can severely impact one’s ability to regulate emotions and focus almost exclusively on the negative aspect of life. Among survivors of sexual abuse, depression can also manifest itself as emotional pain, for which non-suicidal self-injury becomes an outlet” says co-author Shannon Stewart, an interRAI Fellow and Director of Clinical Training, School and Applied Child Psychology at Western University.

    Co-author Barbara Fallon, an associate professor at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work at University of Toronto and Canada Research Chair in Child Welfare, also notes that “understanding the mechanism through which non-suicidal self-injury may occur can inform clinicians and social workers working with formerly abused children in preventing future non-suicidal self-injurious behaviours.”


  5. Interpersonal abuse in early life may lead to concentration issues later in life

    April 14, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Boston University Medical Center press release:

    Does a history of abuse before the age of 18 affect later capacity to concentrate and stay focused?

    According to a new study Veterans with a history of physical or sexual abuse or witnessing family violence before the age of 18 have a reduced ability to concentrate compared to Veterans who were not abused.

    The study, which appears in the journal Brain and Behavior, revealed that this failure to concentrate was associated with abnormal connectivity in the brain, between the amygdala, a core region for emotion, and frontal areas that help maintain focus. Collectively, these findings offer a new perspective on the long-term impact of psychological trauma years, if not decades, after childhood.

    Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and the Translational Research Center for TBI and Stress Disorders at the VA Boston Healthcare System compared two groups of young Veterans. One group had a history of early life abuse, while the other did not. Both groups performed a concentration test while their brain activity was measured. The group that experienced trauma prior to 18 had worse concentration and abnormal communication between “emotional” regions (amygdala) and “attentional” regions of the brain (prefrontal cortex).

    “Trauma during one’s youth may not just cause difficulties with emotions later in life but may also impact day-to-day functioning like driving, working, education and relationships due to brain changes that stem from the trauma,” explained senior author Michael Esterman, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at BUSM and associate director of the VA Boston Neuroimaging Center. “Our results suggest that early psychological interventions could result in better cognitive abilities as an adult.”

    According to the researchers this study suggests that inter-personal abuse before 18 can have dramatic and long lasting effects on the development of the brain that is only now beginning to be understood. Methodologically, this study is part of an exciting new era for brain imaging, where complex, but reliable patterns of brain connections can give insight into individual differences in clinical characteristics and cognitive abilities.


  6. Threat of firearm use affects PTSD symptoms among female victims of partner violence

    April 10, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Genetic Engineering News press release:

    A new study shows that the threat of firearm use by a male partner in an intimate relationship is a significant predictor of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptom severity in women, independent of other forms of interpersonal partner violence. The study is published in Violence and Gender, a peer-reviewed journal from Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers. The article is available free on the Violence and Gender website until May 12, 2017.

    Tami Sullivan, PhD and Nicole Weiss, PhD, Yale University School of Medicine (New Haven, CT), coauthored the article entitled “Is Firearm Threat in Intimate Relationships Associated with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms among Women?” The researchers reported that more than 24% of the nearly 300 women in the study who had been victims of domestic violence by a male intimate partner had experienced threat with a firearm during the relationship.

    These findings have important implications for providers who care for women involved in criminal cases associated with intimate partner violence. The development of validated measures to assess firearm-related threat and fear could be valuable predictive tools to help identify women who are at risk for PTSD and candidates for prevention and intervention efforts.

    “This article underscores the continued damage caused by the reckless use of firearms and, as important, it provides much needed and critical insight into the breadth and depth of trauma brought about by domestic violence,” says Editor-in-Chief Mary Ellen O’Toole, PhD, Forensic Behavioral Consultant and Senior FBI Profiler/Criminal Investigative Analyst (ret.) Director of the Forensic Sciences Program, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA.


  7. Does advice for managing workplace bullying work?

    April 2, 2017 by Ashley

    From the National Communication Association press release:

    If you’ve ever been chewed out by your boss, or suffered through endless criticism and condescension from a colleague, you’re one of many people who have been a victim of workplace bullying. While certain harassment situations call upon employees to follow specific human resources protocol as determined by federal law, many emplo
    yees have experiences that require them to make do with casual advice such as “Just stand up to them,” “Be more assertive,” “File a written record,” “Ignore it,” or “Quit.”

    In a new study featured in the National Communication Association’s Journal of Applied Communication Research, authors Stacy Tye-Williams and Kathleen J. Krone identify and re-imagine the paradox of workplace bullying advice. They interviewed 48 individuals from a variety of occupations and found that targets of workplace bullying frequently offered advice they had received to other targets, despite believing that the advice either made no difference or had made their own situations worse.

    Tye-Williams and Krone explored targets’ “tendency to adopt an exclusively rational response to what may be a highly irrational experience,” and bystanders’ and advice-givers’ inclination to lead individuals to believe they are single-handedly responsible for stopping a bully. While the authors acknowledge that the dilemmas and paradoxes associated with following advice related to workplace bullying are increasingly well-known, they note that the advice organizations receive to address bullying creates even more challenges as it “illustrated the constraints placed on attempts to operate more imaginatively and expressively within formal organizational boundaries.”

    Study participants generally reported favorable views toward the advice they received from supervisors, co-workers, friends or family, or other resources, but also intense frustration when the advice was unrealistic, unhelpful, or downplayed their emotions and experience — which the authors say is problematic.

    Ultimately, Tye-Williams and Krone argue that conventional advice is rarely sufficient to stop workplace bullying, especially as it fails to recognize the emotional nature of the experience and the need for a collective rather than individual response. They recommend validating the strong emotions associated with being bullied and creating “alternative spaces where targets and their allies can begin to imagine more potent options for disrupting cycles of workplace abuse.”


  8. Stress of abuse accelerates puberty in children

    April 1, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Penn State press release:

    While it has long been known that maltreatment can affect a child’s psychological development, new Penn State research indicates that the stress of abuse can impact the physical growth and maturation of adolescents as well.

    Jennie Noll, director of the Child Maltreatment Solutions Network and professor of human development and family studies, and Idan Shalev, assistant professor of biobehavioral health, found that young girls who are exposed to childhood sexual abuse are likely to physically mature and hit puberty at rates 8 to twelve months earlier than their non-abused peers. Their results were published recently in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

    “Though a year’s difference may seem trivial in the grand scheme of a life, this accelerated maturation has been linked to concerning consequences, including behavioral and mental health problems and reproductive cancers,” said Noll.

    The body is timed so that physical and developmental changes occur in tandem, assuring that as a child physically changes, they have adequate psychological growth to cope with mature contexts. “High-stress situations, such as childhood sexual abuse, can lead to increased stress hormones that jump-start puberty ahead of its standard biological timeline,” Noll explained. “When physical maturation surpasses psychosocial growth in this way, the mismatch in timing is known as maladaptation.”

    In the past, there have been studies loosely linking sexual abuse to maladaptation and accelerated maturation, but the longitudinal work completed by Noll and her team has been the most conclusive and in-depth to date, beginning in 1987 and following subjects throughout each stage of puberty.

    Controlling for race, ethnicity, family makeup, obesity, socioeconomic status and nonsexual traumatic experiences, the researchers compared the pubescent trajectories of 84 females with a sexual abuse history and 89 of their non-abused counterparts. Working closely with nurses and Child Protective Services, the subjects were tracked from pre-puberty to full maturity based on a system known as Tanner staging.

    Tanner staging is a numeric index of ratings that corresponds with the physical progression of puberty. The study’s researchers focused on breast and pubic hair development as two separate mile markers for pubescent change. Subjects were placed somewhere from one (prepubescent) to five (full maturity) on the Tanner index and their Tanner number and age were mapped out and recorded over time.

    “We found that young women with sexual abuse histories were far more likely to transition into higher puberty stages an entire year before their non-abused counterparts when it came to pubic hair growth, and a full 8 months earlier in regards to breast development,” Noll stated. “Due to increased exposure to estrogens over a longer period of time, premature physical development such as this has been linked to breast and ovarian cancers. Additionally, early puberty is seen as a potential contributor to increased rates of depression, substance abuse, sexual risk taking and teenage pregnancy.”

    The researchers believe they were able to accurately rule out other variables that may have aided in accelerated puberty, pinpointing child sexual abuse and the stress hormones associated with it as a cause for early maturation in young girls. Their findings add to the body of work highlighting the role of stress in puberty, and it is the hope that the research will lead to increased preventative care and psychosocial aid to young women facing the effects of early maturation.


  9. New study links opioid epidemic to childhood emotional abuse

    March 24, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Vermont press release:

    A study by researchers at the University of Vermont has revealed a link between adult opioid misuse and childhood emotional abuse, a new finding that suggests a rethinking of treatment approaches for opioid abusers.

    To uncover the link to emotional abuse, the study, published in the current issue of Addictive Behaviors, analysed and cross referenced the results of a series of psychological tests administered to a sample of 84 individuals with a history of problem opioid use who had also suffered childhood trauma.

    Earlier research has found that a high percentage of adults who abuse substances were maltreated in a variety of ways as children. But few previous studies have investigated the causes of opioid addiction specifically, and no earlier ones narrowed the link among opioid users to emotional abuse.

    Emotional abuse was much more strongly correlated with survey participants’ problem opioid use than childhood sexual and physical abuse or other kinds of maltreatment such as neglect.

    The study found that children who had been emotionally abused were more likely to engage in rash, risky behavior in adolescence and to suffer posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as adults. Opioid use offered a refuge from PTSD for this group — while causing a host of new problems. The severity of the PTSD was directly linked to the severity of their opioid-related problems.

    “If a person is being physically or sexually abused, it’s easier to put the blame on the person doing the abuse,” said Matthew Price, assistant professor in Department of Psychological Science at the University of Vermont, and the paper’s senior author.

    “With emotional abuse, the abuser is saying ‘You are the problem.’ Being called names, being told you’re not good enough, being told no one cares about you undermines your ability to cope with difficult emotions. To protect themselves from strong emotions and from trauma cues that can bring on PTSD symptoms, people with this kind of childhood experience frequently adopt a strategy of avoidance, which can include opioid use.”

    New treatment approaches

    The findings suggest why some opioid abusers don’t respond to substance abuse counseling or PTSD treatment and point the way toward potentially more productive therapies. Drug addiction and mental health issues are often treated separately by different kinds of specialists, Price said. “Mental health counselors will frequently say, ‘Deal with your drug issues first, then come to see me.'”

    The study suggests “we should really start to explore more integrated treatment,” Price said. “If a patient has had severe emotional abuse and they have a tendency to act out when they’re feeling upset, and then they turn to opioids to deal with the resulting PTSD, it makes sense to address the emotional component and the drug problems at the same time.”

    In the study, participants were interviewed about their childhood experiences and then given a battery of psychological tests that measured the type and extent of any maltreatment they had experienced as children, the extent to which their opioid use was causing life problems, the severity of their addiction, the extent of their impulsive behavior, and the extent and severity of their PTSD.

    The researchers used a sophisticated statistical method known as structural equation modeling, or SEM, to make connections between the data sets each of the individual tests brought to light, which illuminated the pathway from childhood emotional abuse to rash adolescent behavior to PTSD to opioid abuse.


  10. Study finds new link between childhood abuse and adolescent misbehavior

    March 16, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Pittsburgh press release:

    An important learning process is impaired in adolescents who were abused as children, a University of Pittsburgh researcher has found, and this impairment contributes to misbehavior patterns later in life.

    Associative learning — the process by which an individual subconsciously links experiences and stimuli together — partially explains how people generally react to various real-world situations. In a newly released study, published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, Pitt Assistant Professor Jamie L. Hanson detailed the connection between impaired associative learning capacities and instances of early childhood abuse.

    “We primarily found that a poorer sense of associative learning negatively influences a child’s behavior patterns during complex and fast-changing situations. Having this knowledge is important for child psychologists, social workers, public policy officials and other professionals who are actively working to develop interventions,” said Hanson, who teaches in Pitt’s Department of Psychology within the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences with a secondary appointment in the University’s Learning Research and Development Center. “We have long known that there is a link between behavioral issues in adolescents and various forms of early life adversities. Yet, the connection isn’t always clear or straightforward. This study provides further insight into one of the many factors of how this complicated relationship comes to exist.”

    To uncover these relationships, researchers asked 81 adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 to play computer games where the child had to figure out which set of visual cues were associated with a reward. Forty-one participants had endured physical abuse at a young age, while the remaining 40 served as a comparison group. The most important aspect of the test, said Hanson, was that the cues were probabilistic, meaning children did not always receive positive feedback.

    “The participants who had been exposed to early childhood abuse were less able than their peers to correctly learn which stimuli were likely to result in reward, even after repeated feedback,” said Hanson. “In life we are often given mixed or little to no feedback from our significant others, bosses, parents and other important people in our lives. We have to be able to figure out what might be the best thing to do next.”

    Hanson and his colleagues also observed that mistreated children were generally less adept at differentiating which behaviors would lead to the best results for them personally when interacting with others. Additionally, abused children displayed more pessimism about the likelihood of positive outcomes compared to the group who hadn’t been abused. Taken as a whole, these findings clarify the relationship between physical abuse and the aggressive and disruptive behaviors that often plague abused children well into the later stages of childhood.