Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

McCanne, Thomas R.

Degree Name

Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy)

Legacy Department

Department of Psychology


Adult child sexual abuse victims--Illinois--Psychology; Adult child sexual abuse victims--Health and hygiene--Illinois; Post-traumatic stress disorder--Illinois


Previous research has established relationships among childhood sexual abuse (CSA), posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), poor physical health outcomes, and high levels of medical utilization. PTSD has also been shown to be predictive of declines in health. This study examined the effects of CSA and PTSD on physical health outcomes, coping, trauma cognition, and health concerns in female college students. The re-experiencing in PTSD was central to the conceptualization of trauma cognition and physical health concerns and was investigated using a computerized Stroop task that utilized health- and abuse-related words. The relationship between avoidant, self-destructive, and constructive coping and physical health was also investigated. The three groups of participants were: no history of abuse and no PTSD (NA-no PTSD), history of CSA without PTSD (CSA-no PTSD), and history of CSA with PTSD (CSA-PTSD). Three hypotheses were tested: (a) CSA participants would report poorer physical health outcomes than participants in the NA-no PTSD group, with those in the CSA-PTSD group reporting the poorest health; (b) individuals with CSA histories would engage in fewer constructive coping strategies and greater numbers of avoidant and self-destructive coping strategies than the NA-no PTSD group, and the use of constructive coping strategies would be associated with better physical health outcomes while the utilization of avoidant or self-destructive coping strategies would be predictive of poorer health outcomes; (c) CSA participants would demonstrate longer color naming latencies than the NA-no PTSD group for health and abuse-related words on the computerized Stroop task, with the CSA-PTSD group showing the greatest impairment in color-naming of physical symptom and trauma words. Consistent with the predictions, the CSA participants reported greater numbers of physical symptoms and higher medical utilization than those in the NA-no PTSD group. The CSA participants reported using greater numbers of avoidant and self destructive coping strategies than the NA-no PTSD group. For the CSA participants, the use of negative coping (avoidant and self-destructive strategies) was associated with poor physical health. Trauma- and health-related interference (longer latencies) was observed on the Stroop task in both CSA groups, relative to the NA-no PTSD group, but the presence of PTSD did not distinguish between the two abuse groups.


Includes bibliographical references (pages [150]-168).


viii, 212 pages




Northern Illinois University

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