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Objective and Subjective Experiences of Child Maltreatment and Their Relationships with Psychopathology

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Andrea Danese, Cathy S. Widom

Original languageEnglish
JournalNature Human Behaviour
Early online date18 May 2020
Accepted/In press6 Apr 2020
E-pub ahead of print18 May 2020
PublishedAug 2020

King's Authors


Does psychopathology develop as a function of the objective or subjective experience of childhood maltreatment? To address this question, we studied a unique cohort of 1,196 children with both objective, court-documented evidence of maltreatment and subjective reports on their childhood maltreatment histories made once they reached adulthood, along with extensive psychiatric assessment. We found that, even for severe cases of childhood maltreatment identified through court records, risk of psychopathology linked to objective measures was minimal in the absence of subjective reports. In contrast, risk of psychopathology linked to subjective reports of childhood maltreatment was high, whether or not the reports were consistent with objective measures. These findings have important implications for how we study the neurobiological effects of child maltreatment and how we prevent or treat maltreatment-related psychopathology. Interventions for psychopathology associated with childhood maltreatment can benefit from deeper understanding of the subjective experience.

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