Dispositional optimism mediates relations between childhood maltreatment and PTSD symptom severity among trauma-exposed adults

Child Abuse Negl. 2021 May:115:105023. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2021.105023. Epub 2021 Mar 13.


Background: Experiences of maltreatment in childhood, such as abuse and neglect, have been associated with poorer psychological well-being in adulthood, including elevated risk of revictimization and increased likelihood of developing posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. Maltreatment has also been associated with reduced resources related to resilience, such as optimism, which may act as a protective factor for mental health.

Objectives: In this study, we examined the mediating role of dispositional optimism in the relationship between childhood maltreatment and PTSD symptom severity from recent trauma in a sample of adults (n = 108) who presented to their local emergency department following trauma.

Methods: We analyzed six models to account for cumulative childhood maltreatment as well as five primary subtypes of maltreatment: emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional neglect, and physical neglect.

Results: Greater dispositional optimism mediated relations between total maltreatment and decreased PTSD severity (Bab = .056, SE = .029, 95 % CI [.009, .121]). Optimism also mediated relations between all maltreatment subtypes and PTSD severity, except sexual abuse.

Conclusions: These results may suggest optimism and positive psychology interventions as effective techniques in reducing the likelihood of PTSD development and severity in trauma-exposed individuals.

Keywords: Child abuse; Child maltreatment; Child neglect; Optimism; PTSD; Posttraumatic stress disorder.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child Abuse*
  • Humans
  • Mental Health
  • Physical Abuse
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires