Childhood Adversity: Measurement And Impacts On Academic Goals And Outcomes

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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adverse childhood experiences
future expectations
Clinical Psychology
Developmental Psychology
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Exposure to childhood adversity – such as maltreatment, violence, and living in poverty – is related to problems with health and wellbeing across the lifespan. The present research aimed to improve measurement of one form of childhood adversity (maltreatment) and explore the role of adversity in one developmental process (goal setting and appraisals) through which it may impact outcomes. Chapter 1 compared two methods of measuring maltreatment using retrospective self-report items in a nationally representative dataset. Both a cumulative index and a two-factor solution showed evidence of convergent validity, but the latent factors explained more variance in many outcomes even controlling for sociodemographic variables. Chapters 2 and 3 explored the role of adversity in adolescents’ goals for their academic futures and its relation to their actual educational outcomes. In the study described in Chapter 2, adolescents generated personal goals and rated each goal on support for and likelihood of achieving it. Controlling for grades, adolescents with more externalizing problems set fewer academic goals, and adolescents with more adverse childhood experiences and social networks characterized by higher levels of social strain appraised their goals as less supported and less achievable. In addition, adolescents’ appraisals of their academic goals, but not how many academic goals they set, predicted their grades prospectively. Chapter 3 used a quasi-experimental sibling comparison design to test whether adolescent’s appraisals of their likelihood of going to college influence their later educational attainment. Controlling for grades and IQ, adolescents who had more optimistic college appraisals than their sibling also had higher educational attainment; this was particularly true for youth in higher socioeconomic status families. However, college appraisals were not related to educational attainment among youth living in poverty and with parents with low educational attainment. Together, results of Chapters 2 and 3 suggest that optimistic appraisals of academic goals promote better academic outcomes, but the context of adversity/low socioeconomic status, and relatedly, social strain, dampens the benefits of optimistic goal appraisals. This points to increasing supports to help adolescents exposed to adversity feel that their academic goals are more supported and achievable, and ultimately improve academic outcomes for youth.

Sara R. Jaffee
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