Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. Amy E. Naugle

Second Advisor

Dr. C. Richard Spates

Third Advisor

Dr. Scott T. Gaynor

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Melissa A. Polusny


Although it is well established that interpersonal victimization can lead to affect regulation problems, less is known about the extent to which childhood victimization impairs facial recognition skills. Most studies exploring this relationship have focused on emotion recognition (ER) in physically abused and neglected children. The degree to which these ER problems apply to sexual victimization and extend into adulthood is yet unknown. The current study examined the impact of physical and sexual childhood abuse on adult ER skills under a heightened arousal condition in 104 women with varying childhood victimization experiences. The relationship between childhood victimization and ER skills was explored by examining participant responses to 32 slides depicting emotional expressions. Multiple regression analyses indicate that childhood victimization was a significant predictor of reaction time to neutral and negative emotional expressions. ER reaction time to sad expressions was a significant predictor of adult sexual victimization experiences whereas ER hit proportion significantly predicted adult physical victimization. Analyses suggest that the relationship between ER reaction time and adult sexual victimization may be associated with behavioral avoidance, but behavioral avoidance does not appear to be implicated in the relationship between ER hit proportion and adult physical victimization. Results suggest that both presence and severity of childhood trauma, regardless of type, may delay responding to certain emotional expressions, which may increase risk for adult sexual victimization. Risk for adult physical victimization, however, appears to be related to misinterpretation of facial cues and lends support to theories emphasizing the role of miscommunication in partner abuse cases.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access