Temporal stability and state-dependence of retrospective self-reports of childhood maltreatment in healthy and depressed adults

Psychol Assess. 2023 Jan;35(1):12-22. doi: 10.1037/pas0001175. Epub 2022 Nov 10.


Retrospective self-reports of childhood maltreatment (CM) are widely used. However, their validity has been questioned due to potential depressive bias. Yet, investigations of this matter are sparse. Thus, we investigated to what extent retrospective maltreatment reports vary in relation to longitudinal changes in depressive symptomatology. Two-year temporal stability of maltreatment reports was assessed via the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire (CTQ). Diagnosis of major depressive disorder (MDD) and depressive symptoms were assessed using the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV and the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI). We included a total of n = 419 healthy controls (HC), n = 347 MDD patients, and a subsample with an initial depressive episode between both assessments (n = 27), from two independent cohorts (Marburg-Münster-affective-disorders-cohort-study and Münster-Neuroimaging-cohort). Analysis plan and hypotheses were preregistered prior to data analysis. Dimensional CTQ scores were highly stable in HC and MDD across both cohorts (ICC = .956; 95% CI [.949, .963] and ICC = .950; 95% CI [.933, .963]) and temporal stability did not differ between groups. Stability was lower for cutoff-based binary CTQ scores (K = .551; 95% CI [.479, .622] and K = .507; 95% CI [.371, .640]). Baseline dimensional CTQ scores were associated with concurrent and future BDI scores. However, longitudinal changes in BDI scores predicted variability in dimensional CTQ scores only to a small extent across cohorts (b = 0.101, p = .009, R² = .021 and b = 0.292, p = .320), with the effect being driven by emotional maltreatment subscales. Findings suggest that the CTQ provides temporally stable self-reports of CM in healthy and depressed populations and is only marginally biased by depressive symptomatology. A dimensional rather than binary conceptualization of maltreatment is advised for improving psychometric quality. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2023 APA, all rights reserved).

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child Abuse* / diagnosis
  • Child Abuse* / psychology
  • Cohort Studies
  • Depressive Disorder, Major* / diagnosis
  • Humans
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Self Report
  • Surveys and Questionnaires