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Maltreatment Is Associated With Specific Impairments in Executive Functions: A Pilot Study


  • Else-Marie Augusti,

    Corresponding author
    1. The Cognitive Developmental Research Unit, Department of Psychology, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway
    • Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Else-Marie Augusti, Department of Psychology, University of Oslo, P.O. Box 1094 Blindern, 0317 Oslo, Norway. E-mail:

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  • Annika Melinder

    1. The Cognitive Developmental Research Unit, Department of Psychology, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway
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  • We thank all the children and their parents for participating in the study. We are also grateful to Diane Amundsen for invaluable help with recruiting participants. The study was supported by grants from the Norwegian Directorate for Children, Youth, and Family Affairs (06/34707) to both authors.


Child maltreatment is associated with a host of adverse consequences. Few studies exist that map maltreated children's performance on neurocognitive tests particularly sensitive to brain and behavior associations. The aim of the present study was to investigate whether maltreated children differed in their executive functioning compared to their nonmaltreated peers, and if they did so in specific ways. Tasks aimed at measuring set shifting, spatial working memory, and inhibition were administered. Trauma-related symptomatology was further assessed to study the potential effect of maltreatment-related psychopathology on executive functioning. A univariate analysis of variance showed that maltreated children (n = 21) performed significantly poorer compared to their nonmaltreated peers (n = 22) on the Spatial Working Memory task. Symptoms of trauma-related psychopathology were not associated with performance on the executive functions tests. In conclusion, maltreatment was not associated with a global deficit in children's executive functions. Thus, when considering maltreated children's cognitive functioning, specific measures of executive functions should be applied.

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撮要:虐待兒童有着一系列壞影響。少數研究試圖找出受虐兒童腦認知測試表現是否對腦部與行為的相連方面較為敏感。本研究探討受虐兒童比非受虐者會否有更多執行功能差異,而且此差異是否獨特的。我們評估集合轉移,空間工作記憶和壓抑,而更深入評估創傷相關症狀學中虐待相關精神病理學對執行功能的潛在影響。單變量分析顯示受虐兒童(n = 21)比非受虐兒童(n = 22)在空間工作記憶項目有統計學上明顯較差表現。創傷相關精神病理學症狀卻與執行功能測試表現無關。所以,結論是虐待並未與兒童的執行功能全面虧損相關。當評估受虐兒童的認知功能時,必須測試特定的執行功能。


撮要:虐待儿童有着一系列坏影响。少数研究试图找出受虐儿童脑认知测试表现是否对脑部与行为的相连方面较为敏感。本研究探讨受虐儿童比非受虐者会否有更多执行功能差异,而且此差异是否独特的。我们评估集合转移,空间工作记忆和压抑,而更深入评估创伤相关症状学中虐待相关精神病理学对执行功能的潜在影响。单变量分析显示受虐儿童(n = 21)比非受虐儿童(n = 22)在空间工作记忆项目有统计学上明显较差表现。创伤相关精神病理学症状却与执行功能测试表现无关。所以,结论是虐待并未与儿童的执行功能全面亏损相关。当评估受虐儿童的认知功能时,必须测试特定的执行功能。