Maltreated and Nonmaltreated Children's Evaluations of Emotional Fantasy
California State University, Fullerton
University of California, Irvine - Department of Criminology, Law and Society
Thomas D. Lyon
University of Southern California - Gould School of Law; University of Southern California - Department of Psychology
Child Abuse and Neglect, Forthcoming
USC Law Legal Studies Paper No. 09-11
Objectives: The purpose of the study was to examine differences between maltreated and nonmaltreated children's ability to differentiate emotionally evocative fantastic and real events.
Methods: Four- and 5-year-old (n = 145) maltreated and nonmaltreated children viewed images depicting positive and negative fantastic and real events and reported whether the events could occur in real life and how the images made them feel. Children also completed a measure of verbal ability.
Results: Maltreated children were more accurate than nonmaltreated children in stating that negative real events could occur, but less accurate in stating that frightening fantastic events could not occur. Group differences also emerged for fantastic neutral events, but not for positive images or how the images made children feel. Additionally, findings emerged with children's verbal ability controlled statistically, suggesting that maltreated children's differential performance was not simply a result of cognitive delay.
Conclusions: Maltreated children's tendency to report that certain negative events can occur may be due to their greater exposure to negative events and heightened sensitivity to negative emotions. The present findings support a growing view that maltreatment uniquely affects how children attend to and process negative emotional information and have implications for practitioners working with maltreated children.
Practical Implications: Practitioners working with maltreated children in clinical and legal settings should consider children's sensitivity to negative information when evaluating their understanding of their surroundings. Contextually appropriate methods of assessing maltreated children's understanding of certain events are also needed, given these children's sensitivity to negative emotional information.
Date posted: May 10, 2009 ; Last revised: June 18, 2009