The Examination of Indivdiual Differences Among Abused Children Using Cluster Analysis

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Title: The Examination of Indivdiual Differences Among Abused Children Using Cluster Analysis
Author: Sabourin Ward, Caryn
Advisors: Mary E. Haskett, Committee Chair
Anne C. Schulte, Committee Member
William P. Erchul, Committee Member
Lynne Baker-Ward, Committee Member
Abstract: Investigations historically have been designed to identify the ways in which abused children differ from their nonabused peers. Although those studies have been instrumental in increasing the understanding of typical sequela of child abuse, past research has not informed us about differences that might exist within groups of abused children. The purpose of the current study was to examine individual differences in social adjustment among physically abused children using cluster analysis, a strategy based on a person-oriented approach to understanding individual differences. Participants were 98 children and their parents. All of the children had a substantiated history of physical abuse. Children's problem solving skills and intent attributions were evaluated using hypothetical vignettes. In addition, parents and children participated in a 30-minute play session that was videotaped for later coding of parent behavior. Approximately six months after the clinic assessment, each child was observed during unstructured play and teachers completed the Social Behavior Scale (SBS) to describe the child's adjustment. Cluster analyses were conducted on seven variables derived from the sample of playground behavior and the SBS. Using a number of criteria, support was found to extract three clusters. The "Social Difficulties" cluster was comprised of children who received the highest ratings for social maladjustment and the lowest for prosocial behavior. The "Socially Well Adjusted" subgroup was compromised of children who received the highest teacher ratings for prosocial behavior and the lowest for social maladjustment. Children comprising the "At Risk" cluster were moderately well adjusted in social behavior; their scores were between those of the other clusters. A secondary purpose of the proposed research was to examine whether intellectual functioning, attributions of intent, social problem solving skills, and/or parental warmth predicted cluster membership. Only hostile attributions of intent was found to be a significant predictor of cluster membership. Findings support our assertion that there are clinically-relevant subgroups among children who have experienced abuse. Although these findings should be considered preliminary pending replication, they do point to the potential utility of examining individual differences in functioning among samples of abused children.
Date: 2006-08-02
Degree: PhD
Discipline: Psychology

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