Date of Award

January 2019

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Dmitri V. Poltavski


Introduction: Previous research has shown cognitive and neurological dysfunction in adults with a history of child abuse. The purpose of the present study was to measure differences that exist in executive functioning skills, both cognitively and neurologically, between individuals who have been abused as children versus those who were not abused as children. Methods: The present study recruited 84 students from the University of North Dakota (Females = 71) with an age range of 18-55 years of age (M = 21.04 years, SD = 6.87). The participants were administered several prescreening measures, including a measure of physical child abuse, emotional child abuse, and sexual child abuse. Based on responses to these measures, participants were assigned to either a no child abuse group or a child abuse group (mild or moderate-to-severe child abuse). Next, three measures of executive functioning skills were administered while functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) data was collected. Results: MANOVA results indicated that there were no significant differences on any of the combined cognitive dependent measures between the two abuse groups. However, follow-up univariate testing revealed a significant difference of commission error rates between the groups (F(1,57) = 6.604, p = 0.013 partial eta2 = 0.104) suggesting greater impulsivity in the child abuse group [provide means for each group here]. Additionally, fNIRS data revealed a statistically significant effect of group (F(1, 69) = 2.934, p = 0.043) across all executive functioning tasks with lower hemodynamic activation patterns observed in the prefrontal cortex of the child abuse group. Additional tests showed these differences existed only during measures of decision-making (t(71) = 2.063, p = 0.043). Conclusion: Individuals who reported have been abused as children had decreased oxygenated blood flow to the medial prefrontal and orbitofrontal cortices during measures of decision making. Decreased oxygenated blood flow to the prefrontal cortex could explain poor decision-making skills that are common within this population. Furthermore, individuals reporting abuse during their childhood exhibited increased levels of impulsivity as compared to their non-abused counterparts.