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Childhood Maltreatment, Negative Self-Referential Processing, and Depressive Symptoms During Stress

Authors Jopling E, Tracy A, LeMoult J

Received 18 September 2019

Accepted for publication 17 December 2019

Published 14 January 2020 Volume 2020:13 Pages 79—87


Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewer comments 2

Editor who approved publication: Professor Igor Elman

Ellen Jopling, Alison Tracy, Joelle LeMoult

Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada

Correspondence: Ellen Jopling
Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia, 2136 West Mall, Vancouver V6T1Z4, BC, Canada
Tel +1-604-916-6269

Introduction: Researchers have documented that the impact of childhood maltreatment on later symptoms of depression differs depending on the type(s) of maltreatment experienced, with emotional abuse and neglect being more likely than other forms of childhood maltreatment to increase the risk for depression. It is possible that emotional abuse and neglect are more likely to increase the risk for depression because they promote the development of negative self-referential processing (SRP), but this has not yet been tested empirically. The current study was designed to examine whether negative SRP mediated the association between different forms of childhood maltreatment and symptoms of depression during a time of stress.
Methods: We assessed the experience of different forms of childhood maltreatment (ie, emotional neglect, physical neglect, emotional abuse, physical abuse, and sexual abuse) and negatively biased self-schemas early on in the university semester, among a sample of undergraduate students. We then assessed levels of depressive symptoms 2 months later during a naturalistic stressor (ie, university students’ first final exams).
Results: As expected, negative SRP mediated the relation between both neglect and emotional abuse, but not physical and sexual abuse, and later symptoms of depression.
Discussion: This is the first study to examine SRP as a mechanism underlying the association between forms of childhood maltreatment and symptoms of depression during a time of stress. Results suggest that the development of negative SRP biases may explain why some types of childhood maltreatment are more likely than others to increase an individual’s risk for depression during stressful developmental periods.

Keywords: depression, childhood maltreatment, self-referential processing

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