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Child maltreatment and adult criminal behavior: Criminal thinking as a mediator

Lorraine E Cuadra, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Child maltreatment is a widespread societal problem that has been linked to a multitude of negative psychological and behavioral consequences for adult victims. In the area of criminal behavior, research suggests that individuals with a history of child maltreatment have a higher likelihood than non-maltreated individuals of being arrested as adults for criminal offenses. While the existing literature highlights the long-term criminal correlates of child maltreatment, simply knowing the bivariate relationship between child maltreatment and adult criminal behavior does not provide a thorough understanding of this association. An important next step is to reveal the processes by which child maltreatment is related to adult criminal behavior. Examination of the literature reveals that cognitive distortions (i.e., inaccurate attitudes, thoughts, or beliefs) are important correlates of both child maltreatment and adult criminal behavior. Based on these findings, the present study examined whether the relationship between child maltreatment and adult criminal behavior is mediated by a specific class of cognitive distortions, termed criminal thinking styles (e.g., sense of entitlement, poor problem-solving ability, rationalization and minimization). In order to accomplish these objectives, individual pathways were explored between cognitive factors and (a) child maltreatment and (b) adult criminal behavior, followed by analyses of the mediating role of cognitive factors in the relationship between child maltreatment and adult criminal behavior.^ Participants for this study include 338 recently adjudicated adult males from a Midwestern state correctional facility. Results suggest that a history of child maltreatment may influence the commission of criminal behaviors in adulthood through criminal thinking styles. Additional analyses revealed a significant relationship between childhood sexual abuse and sexual offenses as well as a history of child physical abuse and physical neglect and endorsing criminal thinking styles such as entitlement, mollification, and cut-off. Furthermore, cognitive indolence, power orientation, and mollification were significantly linked to sexual offenses while entitlement was related to violent/non-sexual offenses. However mediation was not demonstrated with these variables. Limitations of this study and suggestions for future directions are discussed. Furthermore, a discussion of clinical implications is provided. ^

Subject Area

Psychology, Clinical|Sociology, Criminology and Penology

Recommended Citation

Cuadra, Lorraine E, "Child maltreatment and adult criminal behavior: Criminal thinking as a mediator" (2007). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3293888.