The relationship between early maltreatment experiences and thematic story content of preschool-age children

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Clinical Psychology

First Committee Member

Donald K. Routh - Committee Chair


Levels of trust and sexual expectations present in the interpersonal schemata of 113 preschool children who differed in their histories of maltreatment were compared. The children comprised four groups; a sexually abused group, a physically abused group, a neglect group, and a non-abused community sample. Thematic stories were obtained with the Children's Apperception Test as a means to obtain samples of the children's interpersonal schemata, and were scored on two trust-related measures: the Mistrust scale (McKay, 1991) and the Affect-Tone of Relationship Paradigms scale (Westen, 1985). Sexual references in stories were counted and summed, to provide a measure of sexualized interpersonal expectations.Children with histories of maltreatment were found to differ from the nonabused comparison group by expressing greater mistrust of the world and more negative expectations of interpersonal relationships than did the community sample. Maltreatment groups did not differ significantly from one another on trust-related measures.Few sexual references appeared in the stories of any of the children. No significant differences among the groups were identified in the amount of sexual content in the thematic stories produced.


Psychology, Clinical

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