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Date of Award

Spring 2018

Degree Name

Bachelor of Science



First Advisor

Dina Anselmi


Early and chronic exposure to intimate partner violence (IPV) can interfere with the typical development of children and impact their later emotional health. However, early violence exposure does not impact all children in the same way, and many more children witness violence than are reported to have lasting problems (Briggs-Gowan, Carter, & Ford, 2011). Research suggests that early trauma-related symptoms (TRS) partially or fully mediate the developmental pathways from early IPV exposure to later emotional health (Briggs-Gowan et al., 2011). The ways in which TRS affect an individual can be better understood by comparing differences in threat reactivity. Hyper- and hypo-reactivity to threat have been found to predict specific TRS in adults with anxiety disorders (Lang & McTeague, 2009). The current study looked at whether threat reactivity in the acute period following IPV exposure is a marker for trauma-related symptoms in pre-school aged children. Participants included children 4 to 6 years of age who have been exposed to physical IPV in the last 12 months and a comparison group with no history of exposure, as well as their mothers. Autonomic reactivity (heart rate, skin conductance, and respiration) of the child participant was measured while they performed the Affective Oddball Silhouettes Task. The data were analyzed to look for differences in defensive mobilization across groups in response to image type. Conclusions cannot yet be drawn due to the small sample size at this point in the study (N = 11), but preliminary findings showed no trend across groups for the Silhouette images, and a slight trend towards heightened defensive mobilization in the IPV- exposed group in response to Negative Face images. Further research is needed to standardize the images used in this task, and to continue with efforts to better understand the influence that threat reactivity has on TRS, as well as the role that TRS play in the developmental pathways from early exposure to later emotional health.


Senior thesis completed at Trinity College for the degree of Bachelor of Science in Psychology. Full text access is limited to the campus community.