Attributions and expectations as mediators of adjustment in women survivors of child sexual abuse

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Counseling Psychology

First Committee Member

Carolyn S. Garwood - Committee Chair


Although researchers agree that child sexual abuse can have long-term effects on functioning, there is little agreement on which variables predict difficulties in adult adjustment. This study explored the influence of two cognitive mediators--type of attribution made for child sexual abuse and optimism, defined as generalized outcome expectancy--on adjustment in a clinical sample of 31 women survivors.Women who made either external attributions or internal, unstable and specific attributions for their child sexual abuse were less psychologically distressed than women who made internal, stable and global attributions. More optimistic abused women were less psychologically distressed and had higher self-esteem than less optimistic abused women. Also abused women who made either external attributions or internal, unstable and specific attributions were more optimistic than women who made internal, stable and global attributions. Expectancy was a more significant predictor of psychological distress and self-esteem than attributions, thus confirming theoretical models. Both cognitive mediators, however, failed to predict sexual dysfunction and sexual satisfaction. Possible explanations for the differential findings between general and sexual adjustment were discussed, along with treatment implications.A number of differences were also found between the sexually abused group and a clinical, unmatched group of 13 women who had never experienced unwanted sexual touching. As hypothesized, the abused women were less optimistic, higher in sexual dysfunction, and lower in sexual satisfaction than the non abused group. The abused women were also more psychologically distressed and had lower self-esteem. The fact that only 13 women were identified as eligible for the control group limits group comparisons but has important implications which were discussed. Compared to the control group women, the sexually abused women were more likely to have experienced physical abuse in childhood and adulthood, drug and/or alcohol use in large amounts, chronic health problems, physical and/or psychiatric hospitalizations, suicide attempts, several kinds of psychotherapy, and years of individual psychotherapy.


Psychology, Social

Link to Full Text


Link to Full Text