Development and Psychopathology

Research Article

A prospective study of child maltreatment and self-injurious behavior in a community sample

Tuppett M. Yatesa1 c1, Elizabeth A. Carlsona2 and Byron Egelanda2

a1 University of California, Riverside

a2 University of Minnesota


In conjunction with prospective ratings of child maltreatment (i.e., sexual abuse, physical abuse, and physical neglect) and measures of dissociation and somatization, this study examined prospective pathways between child maltreatment and nonsuicidal, direct self-injurious behavior (SIB; e.g., cutting, burning, self-hitting). Ongoing participants in the Minnesota Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (N = 164; 83 males, 81 females) completed a semistructured interview about SIB when they were 26 years old. SIB emerged as a heterogeneous and prominent phenomenon in this low-income, mixed-gender, community sample. Child sexual abuse predicted recurrent injuring (i.e., three or more events; n = 13), whereas child physical abuse appeared more salient for intermittent injuring (i.e., one to two events; n = 13). Moreover, these relations appeared largely independent of risk factors that have been associated with child maltreatment and/or SIB, including child cognitive ability, socioeconomic status, maternal life stress, familial disruption, and childhood exposure to partner violence. Dissociation and somatization were related to SIB and, to a lesser degree, child maltreatment. However, only dissociation emerged as a significant mediator of the observed relation between child sexual abuse and recurrent SIB. The findings are discussed within a developmental psychopathology framework in which SIB is viewed as a compensatory regulatory strategy in posttraumatic adaptation.


Preparation of this work was supported by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship awarded to the first author. This research was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (MH-48064) to the third author. This study was part of a doctoral dissertation.