Exposure to early childhood maltreatment and its effect over time on social cognition

Abstract

Social cognitive deficits can have many negative consequences, spanning social withdrawal to psychopathology. Prior work has shown that child maltreatment may associate with poorer social cognitive skills in later life. However, no studies have examined this association from early childhood into adolescence. Using data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC; n = 4,438), we examined the association between maltreatment (caregiver physical or emotional abuse; sexual or physical abuse), assessed repeatedly (every 1-3 years) from birth to age 9, and social cognitive skills at ages 7.5, 10.5, and 14 years. We evaluated the role of both the developmental timing (defined by age at exposure) and accumulation of maltreatment (defined as the number of occasions exposed) using a least angle regression variable selection procedure, followed by structural equation modeling. Among females, accumulation of maltreatment explained the most variation in social cognitive skills. For males, no significant associations were found. These findings underscore the importance of early intervention to minimize the accumulation of maltreatment and showcase the importance of prospective studies to understand the development of social cognition over time

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