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Decision-Making Deficits Among Maltreated Children

NCJ Number
Child Maltreatment Volume: 18 Issue: 3 Dated: August 2013 Pages: 184-194
Joshua A. Weller; Philip A. Fisher
Date Published
August 2013
11 pages
This study examined the decisionmaking process of maltreated children.
Although maltreated children involved with child welfare services are known to exhibit elevated levels of health-risking behaviors, little is known about their decisionmaking processes leading to such tendencies. Research findings suggest that maltreated children exhibit developmental delays in neurocognitive and emotional regulation systems that could adversely impact their abilities to make decisions under conditions of risk. Whereas prior researchers have examined risky decisionmaking as a global construct, maltreated children's decisionmaking was examined in two contexts in the present study: potential gains and potential losses. Comparing maltreated children (n = 25) and a nonmaltreated community group (n = 112), it was found that the maltreated children showed decisionmaking impairments for both domains: This impairment was especially prominent in the loss domain. The maltreated children took excessive risks and were insensitive to changes in expected value. Follow-up analyses revealed that these differences were primarily associated with insensitivity to changes in outcome magnitude for the risky option. Finally, response latency analyses indicated that the maltreated children were slower to make choices, reinforcing underlying differences in decision processes between groups. These results have implications for basic and translational science. Abstract published by arrangement with Sage Journals.