Personality characteristics of perpetrating parents and maltreated adolescents : an examination of the mediating effects of abuse type and severity



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The maltreatment of children is unarguably an important social concern, the negative effects of which have been well-documented in the literature over the past two decades. Research on the etiology of maltreatment, however, has yielded few strong conclusions regarding the characteristics of abusive parents. There is much disagreement with respect to the personality or psychological attributes of those parents who maltreat their children (Belsky, 1993), and the question of how those characteristics are differentially associated with the subtypes of abuse has not been adequately addressed. Furthermore, although the extant literature has consistently agreed that maltreatment contributes to poor psychological outcomes for adolescents it is less clear how these outcomes differ depending upon the type and severity of maltreatment (Trickett & McBride-Chang, 1995). The current study sought to identify those personality attributes that are both predictors and effects of abuse. Scales of the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory- 2nd edition (MMPI-2) were examined to determine personality variables associated with perpetration of each of four major classifications of abuse. Further, scales from the MMPI-Adolescent version (MMPI-A) were utilized to determine those personality variables in adolescents that may be affected by each of those four categories. This study hypothesized that clear patterns would emerge in which certain personality variables are predictive of the type of abuse that parents engage in, and each type of abuse is predictive of the manifestation of certain personality characteristics in adolescents. The effects of gender were also analyzed. Structural Equation Modeling was used to analyze the MMPI-2 and MMPI-A data and abuse histories of 100 pairs of offending parents and maltreated adolescents. Results indicated significant direct effects of parent personality on abuse subtype, abuse subtype on adolescent personality, parent personality on adolescent personality, and one significant mediation effect of parent personality on adolescent personality through abuse subtype. Additionally, gender was found to significantly affect the engagement in and experience of abuse, and one significant interaction of gender and abuse subtype on adolescent personality was discovered. Results are of practical importance in designing abuse intervention and prevention programs and inform the current understanding of the intergenerational transmission of abuse.