Child abuse and negative explicit and automatic self-associations: the cognitive scars of emotional maltreatment

A.L. van Harmelen, P.J. de Jong, K.A. Glashouwer, P. Spinhoven, B.W.J.H. Penninx, B.M. Elzinga

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135 Citations (Scopus)


Individuals reporting Childhood Abuse (CA) (i.e., emotional neglect, emotional-, physical- and sexual-abuse) are marked by increased explicit (i.e. self-reported) negative self-associations, and an increased risk to develop depression or anxiety disorders. Automatic self-associations might play an important role in the development and maintenance of affective disorders after exposure to CA, since automatic associations are assumed to be involved in uncontrolled (spontaneous) affective behavior. This study examined whether individuals reporting a history of CA show stronger automatic (and explicit) self-depression and/or self-anxiety associations than individuals who report no CA in a large cohort study (Netherlands Study of Depression and Anxiety (NESDA), n = 2981). The Implicit Association Test (IAT) was utilized to assess automatic self-depression and self-anxiety associations. We found that CA was associated with enhanced automatic (and explicit) self-depression and self-anxiety associations. Additionally, when compared to physical- and sexual-abuse, Childhood Emotional Maltreatment (CEM; emotional abuse and emotional neglect) had the strongest link with enhanced automatic (and explicit) self-depression and self-anxiety associations. In addition, automatic and explicit negative self-associations partially mediated the association between CEM and depressive or anxious symptomatology. Implications regarding the importance of CA, and CEM in particular will be discussed. © 2010 Elsevier Ltd.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)486-494
JournalBehaviour research and therapy
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2010

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