Childhood Maltreatment and Impulsivity: A Meta-Analysis and Recommendations for Future Study

J Abnorm Child Psychol. 2019 Feb;47(2):221-243. doi: 10.1007/s10802-018-0445-3.


Both childhood maltreatment and impulsivity have been implicated in a broad array of negative public health outcomes and have been much studied in relation to each other. Characterizing this relationship, and the processes underlying it, are important for informing intervention efforts targeting this association and its psychopathological sequelae. The current review presented a systematic meta-analysis of the empirical literature on childhood maltreatment and impulsivity. In all, 55 eligible studies were identified and included in this review. General support was found for a positive association between childhood maltreatment, including its specific subtypes, and general trait impulsivity, with pooled effect sizes ranging from small in the case of childhood sexual abuse (OR = 1.59 [95% CI = 1.38-1.84]) to medium-to-large in the case of childhood emotional abuse (OR = 3.10 [95% CI = 2.27-4.23]). Support for a relationship between childhood maltreatment and laboratory-based measures of impulsive behavior was generally lacking. The current findings must be interpreted with a degree of caution, given several methodological limitations characterizing much of the empirical literature. Recommendations for addressing these limitations and directions for future research are provided.

Keywords: Child abuse; Child maltreatment; Impulsivity; Meta-analysis; Neglect.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child Abuse*
  • Child Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior*