A meta-analysis on the impact of psychiatric disorders and maltreatment on cognition

Neuropsychology. 2016 Feb;30(2):143-56. doi: 10.1037/neu0000228.


Objective: Few studies have attempted to describe the range of cognitive impairments in individuals with psychiatric disorders who experienced maltreatment as children. The aims of this meta-analysis were to establish the impact of maltreatment and psychiatric disorders on cognition, and to examine the change in impact from childhood to adulthood.

Method: Twelve publications from 1970 to 2013 were included, with the following inclusion criteria: (a) individuals with a psychiatric disorder who experienced maltreatment, (b) use of at least 1 standardized neuropsychological measure, and (c) use of a control group without any psychiatric disorder or mistreatment. The majority of studies (10/12) were about posttraumatic stress disorder. Several effect sizes were calculated (Hedge's g) according to the cognitive domains.

Results: The results of the meta-analysis demonstrate that the combination of psychiatric disorders and childhood maltreatment has a negative impact on global cognitive performance, with a moderate effect size (g = -0.59). The most affected cognitive domains for individuals aged 7- to 18-years-old were visual episodic memory (g = -0.97), executive functioning (g = -0.90), and intelligence (g = -0.68). For individuals over the age of 18-years-old, the most affected cognitive domains were verbal episodic memory (g = -0.77), visuospatial/problem solving (g = -0.73), and attention (g = -0.72). The impact of maltreatment and psychiatric disorders was greater in children than in adults (slope = 0.008, p < .002).

Conclusion: The results suggest that exposure to maltreatment and the presence of psychiatric disorders have a broad impact on cognition, with specific neuropsychological profile.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention*
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology*
  • Cognition Disorders / psychology
  • Cognition*
  • Executive Function
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intelligence
  • Male
  • Memory, Episodic*
  • Mental Disorders / psychology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Problem Solving*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / diagnosis
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology*