Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date


Publication Title

Advances in Psychology Research. Volume 103




This chapter provides a summary of empirical evidence linking childhood maltreatment and trait impulsivity. While biological contributors to impulsivity may be substantial, this review speculates that childhood and adolescent contributors may potentially alter the developmental trajectory of this personality trait in important ways. An analysis of original data (N = 401) regarding child maltreatment associations (childhood sexual abuse, physical abuse, sibling abuse, peer bullying, corporal punishment, and exposure to domestic violence) with trait impulsivity as measured by the Personality Inventory for the DSM-5 was also conducted. Adult respondents were assigned to extreme child abuse categories based on their retrospective self-reports. Co-occurrence rates for the various forms of maltreatment were modest (around 10%). While childhood sexual abuse was more closely associated with adult impulsivity among the men than the women, gender differences in these maltreatment relationships were otherwise minimal. Extreme childhood sexual abuse was a significant predictor of trait impulsivity and all other facets of the PID-5 Disinhibition domain (ds ranging from .52 to .80). Adult impulsivity was predicted by both childhood physical abuse (ds ranging from .23 to .28) and exposure to domestic violence during childhood (ds ranging from .21 to .32). The relative risk of adult respondents showing an elevation (> 1.5 SDs) in trait Impulsivity was raised substantially by childhood histories of extreme sexual abuse (RR = 8.68), physical abuse (RR = 3.31), or exposure to parental domestic violence (RR = 4.08). Higher order interactions between these various forms of childhood maltreatment and Impulsivity were not found. The developmental psychopathology implications of these findings are discussed along with suggested directions for future research.

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