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Dev Psychopathol. 2016 Feb;28(1):73-83. doi: 10.1017/S0954579415000292. Epub 2015 Apr 8.

Social cognitive deficits and biases in maltreated adolescents in U.K. out-of-home care: Relation to disinhibited attachment disorder and psychopathology.

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University of Manchester.


Children entering out-of-home (OoH) care have often experienced multiple forms of maltreatment and are at risk of psychiatric disorder and poor long-term outcome. Recent evidence shows high rates of disinhibited attachment disorder (DAD) among maltreated adolescents in U.K. OoH care (Kay & Green, 2013). This study aimed to further understand the mechanisms of outcome in this group through investigation of social cognitive functioning. Patterns of theory of mind (ToM) and social information processing were assessed alongside DAD behavior and psychopathology in 63 adolescents in U.K. OoH care (mean age = 176 months, SD = 22; 48% male; 89% White British) and 69 low-risk comparison adolescents (mean age = 171 months, SD = 17; 46% male; 87% White British). Compared to low risk, OoH adolescents showed a hostile attribution bias and ToM deficit, but this was confounded by language ability. ToM was associated with reduced hostile attribution and responding biases and increased social competence, which was further associated with lower levels of externalizing psychopathology. There was no association between social cognition and core features of DAD. Social cognitive deficits and biases may play a role in the high rates of externalizing psychopathology and relationship functioning difficulties in maltreated samples. Future research should assess alternative cognitive mechanisms for DAD.

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