Publication Date


Document Type


Degree Name

M.A. (Master of Arts)

Legacy Department

Department of Psychology


Adult child abuse victims--Illinois; Women--Health and hygiene--Illinois; Psychic trauma; Child sexual abuse--United States--Psychological aspects


The emotional sequelae to childhood sexual abuse (CSA) are long-lasting. Victims also report more physical symptoms, heightened health concerns, and overall poorer physical health than individuals who were not sexually abused as children. These physical consequences are evident in victims’ utilization of medical services. It was hypothesized that victims of CSA experience more arousal, avoidance, cognitive intrusion symptoms (re-experiencing), and physical symptoms than do nonvictims. However, victims Who had engaged in emotional disclosure of their traumas would experience better health as measured by physical symptoms. It was also predicted that victims of CSA would show evidence of their preoccupation with their physical health through impairment in cognition as manifested by deficits in their parallel processing capabilities. The Stroop paradigm was utilized to measure this cognitive intrusion or reexperiencing. Since CSA typically does not occur in isolation, the combined effects of CSA and childhood physical abuse (CPA) and the unique effects of CPA were also examined and then compared to a non-abused comparison group. Consistent with the predictions, the abused groups experienced a greater number of the three symptom clusters—arousal, avoidance, and cognitive intrusion. However, these victims of childhood abuse did not experience poorer physical health than did nonvictims, as was expected. Emotional disclosure of the traumatic experience(s) was also unrelated to better physical health. In addition, cognitive intrusion of traumatic experiences and preoccupation with physical health concerns as indexed by longer colornaming latencies was not related to the abuse or physical health status. Although the standard Stroop effect was observed for all groups, victims of childhood abuse took similar times to name trauma and health-related words. When cognitive intrusion was assessed by a word-recognition task, women who had suffered CPA and were in poor health recognized more health-related words. It is possible that the effects of the CSA suffered by the women in this sample might have been attenuated by factors such as existing social support and prior emotional disclosure. It is imperative that future studies utilize clinical samples to assess the impact of CSA on physical health and health-related concerns.


Includes bibliographical references (pages [71]-79)


vi, 142 pages




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