Examining Executive Functioning Deficits in Juvenile Delinquents with a History of Trauma Exposure
Type of Degreethesis
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We examined whether an early childhood history of trauma explains which juvenile offenders develop Executive Functioning (EF) deficits. One hundred and eighty-eight incarcerated adolescent males were evaluated for personal trauma history and EF, from which three latent factors were formed. Despite exhibiting below average EF performance, SEM showed that childhood maltreatment and delinquent status were not mediated by EF performance. Analyses indicated that specific trauma characteristics predict juvenile offending behavior, even after controlling for EF. Salient trauma characteristics include age of first victimization, relationship to perpetrator, and combined-type victimization (i.e., physical and sexual victimization). In particular, experiences with early victimization, incestuous trauma, and combined-type abuse are related to juvenile sex offending and may be stronger predictors of prognosis than other trauma characteristics (e.g., frequency, duration). Some individuals with a history of trauma exposure and some juvenile offenders may exhibit EF deficits; but poor inhibition, cognitive flexibility, or monitoring does not appear to explain the relationship between trauma and delinquency. Other theories regarding the long-term effects of childhood trauma and the etiology of delinquent behavior should be explored in order to identify protective factors and inform treatment. The need for refinement in EF conceptualization and measurement also continues.