Participant Responses to Retrospective Surveys of Child Maltreatment: Does Mode of Assessment Matter?

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This study examines the impact that different methods of assessing child maltreatment history may have on adult participants. A total of 334 female undergraduate students were randomly assigned to complete a retrospective measure of child sexual and physical abuse in one of three conditions: paper-and-pencil questionnaire, face-to-face interview, or computer-administered survey. Disclosure rates of abuse, psychological distress and mood change, preferences for assessment format, and perceptions of confidentiality were examined across the three assessment formats. Although disclosure did not vary by condition, participants with a history of abuse reported more distress and mood change than did nonvictims, particularly in the computer condition. Nevertheless, the computer condition was rated as the most preferred format and was viewed by participants as the most confidential means of assessing maltreatment history. Participants reporting abuse through interviews were more likely than those in other conditions to state a preference for another type of assessment format. The implications of these findings for abuse history research are discussed.

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