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Physically Abused Children's Regulation of Attention in Response to Hostility


  • This research was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (R01-MH61285) to Seth Pollak. Shira Vardi was supported by a University of Wisconsin Hilldale Undergraduate Research Fellowship. We gratefully acknowledge the technical support provided by Dirk Wilker, Jerry Bialzik, Greg Kant, and Andrew Mulder. We also appreciate the assistance of Ari Neulight, Sarah Pluck, and the many research assistants who aided in the collection of these data. This research would not have been possible without the collaboration of Robert Lee, Ami Orlin, and Judy Bordson of Child Protective Services, Wisconsin Department of Health and Human Services. Finally, we are indebted to the families and children who generously gave their time to collaborate in this research. A preliminary report of these data was presented at the Biennial Meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, Tampa, FL (April, 2003).

concerning this article should be addressed to Seth D. Pollak, Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin at Madison, Madison, WI 53706-1696. Electronic mail may be sent to


The present study examines the effects of early emotional experiences on children's regulation or strategic control of attention in the presence of interpersonal hostility. Abused children's reactions to the unfolding of a realistic interpersonal emotional situation were measured through multiple methods including autonomic nervous system changes and overt behavioral performance. Although physically abused and non-physically abused 4-year-old children did not differ in terms of their baseline levels of arousal, marked differences in physically abused children's regulatory responses to background anger emerged. These data suggest that the emergence of anger leads to increases in anticipatory monitoring of the environment among children with histories of abuse. Results are discussed in terms of risk factors in the development of psychopathology.