Physically Abused Children Have Trouble Identifying Rewards

Dr. Miriam Galindo pic

Dr. Miriam Galindo
Image: galindopsychology.com

Miriam Galindo is a clinical psychologist with a private practice in Irvine, California. Miriam Galindo also has served as a therapist in the Child Abuse Prevention Program at CSP, Inc., in Lake Forest, California.

A study performed by psychologist Dr. Jamie Hanson of the University of Pittsburgh indicates that physically abused children are less able to make choices that lead to rewards. Children who experience abuse often grow up in environments where punishment is always looming and rewards are rare and unpredictable. Thus, they don’t have the ability to adapt to new rules.

The researchers performed an experiment where abused and nonabused children had to choose between pictures of objects to earn points for a prize. One of the pictures was randomly chosen to award points significantly more frequently than the other. While both sets of children chose higher-value images more often as the trial progressed, the physically abused children lagged behind, choosing the correct picture in 131 out of 200 trials. The nonabused children chose the image 151 times out of 200.

Scientists posit the unpredictability and inconsistency of rewards at home may affect the decision-making abilities of abused children in social situations.