Internal working models and adjustment of physically abused children: the mediating role of self-regulatory abilities


  • Conflicts of interest statement: No conflicts declared.



Abused children's internal working models (IWM) of relationships are known to relate to their socioemotional adjustment, but mechanisms through which negative representations increase vulnerability to maladjustment have not been explored. We sought to expand the understanding of individual differences in IWM of abused children and investigate the mediating role of self-regulation in links between IWM and adjustment.


Cluster analysis was used to subgroup 74 physically abused children based on their IWM. Internal working models were identified by children's representations, as measured by a narrative story stem task. Self-regulation was assessed by teacher report and a behavioral task, and adjustment was measured by teacher report.


Cluster analyses indicated two subgroups of abused children with distinct patterns of IWMs. Cluster membership predicted internalizing and externalizing problems. Associations between cluster membership and adjustment were mediated by children's regulation, as measured by teacher reports of many aspects of regulation. There was no support for mediation when regulation was measured by a behavioral task that tapped more narrow facets of regulation.


Abused children exhibit clinically relevant individual differences in their IWMs; these models are linked to adjustment in the school setting, possibly through children's self-regulation.