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J Pers Disord. 1997 Spring;11(1):4-18.

Psychosocial adversities in childhood and adult psychopathology.

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  • 1MRC Child Psychiatry Unit, Institute of Psychiatry, London, UK.


Numerous studies have reported statistical associations between adverse childhood experiences and psychopathology in adult life. A range of conceptual and methodological issues needs to be borne in mind in interpreting these findings. Methodological issues include implications of base rates of postulated risk and outcome measures, and the possibility of third variable effects. Conceptually, further evidence is needed on the aspects of early experience most likely to contribute to risk (acute vs chronic stressors: actively negative vs lack of positive experiences; and the implications of cognitive processing of events); the specificity of effects; possible mechanisms involved in mediating effects in childhood, and approaches to testing them: and factors involved in persistence into adult life. There are good reasons to assume that adverse early experience plays a contributory role in the genesis of personality disorder. However, at this stage, evidence is still limited on how this comes about.

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