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Trauma Violence Abuse. 2012 Jul;13(3):135-52. doi: 10.1177/1524838012447697. Epub 2012 Jun 5.

Does maltreatment beget maltreatment? A systematic review of the intergenerational literature.

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Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742, USA.


In this article, the authors critically review the literature testing the cycle of maltreatment hypothesis which posits continuity in maltreatment across adjacent generations. That is, the authors examine whether a history of maltreatment victimization is a significant risk factor for the later perpetration of maltreatment. The authors begin by establishing 11 methodological criteria that studies testing this hypothesis should meet. They include such basic standards as using representative samples, valid and reliable measures, prospective designs, and different reporters for each generation. The authors identify 47 studies that investigated this issue and then evaluate them with regard to the 11 methodological criteria. Overall, most of these studies report findings consistent with the cycle of maltreatment hypothesis. Unfortunately, at the same time, few of them satisfy the basic methodological criteria that the authors established; indeed, even the stronger studies in this area only meet about half of them. Moreover, the methodologically stronger studies present mixed support for the hypothesis. As a result, the positive association often reported in the literature appears to be based largely on the methodologically weaker designs. Based on this systematic methodological review, the authors conclude that this small and methodologically weak body of literature does not provide a definitive test of the cycle of maltreatment hypothesis. The authors conclude that it is imperative to develop more robust and methodologically adequate assessments of this hypothesis to more accurately inform the development of prevention and treatment programs.

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