Childhood maltreatment predicts poorer executive functioning in adulthood beyond symptoms of internalizing psychopathology


Background A history of childhood maltreatment predicts poorer functioning in several domains during childhood, including executive function (EF). While there is also evidence of poorer EF in adults with a history of childhood trauma, results are mixed. Notable limitations of previous research are (a) the use of single indicators of EF, and/or (b) not consistently assessing whether childhood maltreatment predicts poorer EF beyond internalizing psychopathology. Objective We sought to overcome limitations of prior work by examining relationships between childhood maltreatment and EF in adulthood by using a latent factor of EF derived from multiple indicators and including psychopathology covariates in our analyses. Participants and setting The present study included a large sample of community adults (n = 489) who were oversampled for internalizing psychopathology symptoms. Methods Primary analyses examined whether childhood maltreatment (cumulative and subtypes) predicted EF using a latent factor approach and linear mixed effects models. Follow-up analyses assessed the impact of childhood maltreatment on EF beyond internalizing psychopathology symptoms and assessed whether gender moderated relationships between EF and childhood maltreatment. Results Greater cumulative maltreatment predicted poorer EF (B = -0.15), and emotional neglect emerged as a unique predictor of EF (B = -0.18). These results remained after controlling for psychopathology symptoms. Gender moderated the relationship between physical abuse and EF, with physical abuse predicting poorer EF among males (B = 0.30), but not females (B = -0.04). Conclusions Overall, results indicate that general EF deficits are related to a history of childhood maltreatment, which is not accounted for by internalizing psychopathology symptoms. Potential implications and future directions are discussed.

Child Abuse & Neglect