What are retrospective and prospective reports of childhood maltreatment? How can they predict psychiatric problems in early adulthood?

By Debarati Choudhury and Sukant Khurana

Source: https://victimservices.wordpress.com/2014/08/06/what-is-child-abuse/

The study, taken from http://www.journalofpsychiatricresearch.com/article/S0022-3956(17)30797-5/pdf observed the legitimacy and analytical value of retrospective self-reports against prospective reports of childhood maltreatment.

Most of the data relating childhood abuse with mental health problems in adulthood comes from a group of adults who retrospectively provide testimony for their childhood experiences. These self-reports are generally stimulated a l0ng time after the abuse happened. Therefore, it is essential to ponder on the probable influence of numerous biases — forgetting, infantile amnesia, consequent life-events, and interview quality — on the chance that childhood traumatic experiences are remembered. Another concern is the possible impact of mood-caused memory biases. For example, depressed adults often have a tendency to remember negative childhood memories more than the positive ones.

Children can also prospectively self-report their abuse experiences. Since questioning a young child directly about such experiences could upset the child, official records, such as medical and social services files, are commonly used. Still only a minor share of abused children comes to the forefront. Hence exclusive dependence on official records significantly underrates the occurrence of child abuse. Prospective caregiver-reports (mostly from the mother) can also be used. Though we might presume that parents know every important information about their child, they might deny evidence if they are themselves the offender or in some way related to the offender.

Source: https://www.haikudeck.com/child-abuse-uncategorized-presentation-2VUeDo2OSt

The studies gave three main conclusions.

1. General rates of childhood abuse were comparable between prospective and retrospective reports. But there existed a tendency for partakers who reported prospectively to not report or underreport this abuse when again questioned at the age of 18. Contrariwise, individuals who self-reported childhood abuse at 18 never gave a prospective report during childhood.

2. Participants who experienced but did not report abuse in childhood were considerably more vulnerable to a lot of psychiatric complications in early adulthood. This includes depression, anxiety, self-injuring behavior and alcohol/drug abuse.

3. The connection between abuse and affective forms of psychopathology (the emotional aspect) depended on whether the childhood abuse was evoked in early-adulthood. In other words, abused individuals were at a bigger risk for affective problems if they themselves remembered being abused than those who fail to recall (or decide not to reveal).

In conclusion, prospective and retrospective reports generated comparable amounts of abuse but apprehended mostly non-overlapping groups. Prospective measures fail to consider individuals whose abuse was not reported during childhood. Retrospective self-report measures do not include people who have forgotten or decide not to reveal their childhood abuse experiences. Therefore, with the present literature, it is best to use both prospective and retrospective measures in the same sample, to assess the mental health outcomes of child abuse.



Debarati Choudhury is a student who worked extensively as a researcher with Dr. Khurana’s group on mental health awareness and evaluated seminal work in the field to help laypeople understand the scientific literature on depression.

Dr. Sukant Khurana runs an academic research lab and several tech companies. He is also a known artist, author, and speaker. You can learn more about Sukant at www.brainnart.com or www.dataisnotjustdata.com and if you wish to work on biomedical research, neuroscience, sustainable development, artificial intelligence or data science projects for public good, you can contact him at skgroup.iiserk@gmail.com or by reaching out to him on linkedin https://www.linkedin.com/in/sukant-khurana-755a2343/.

Here are two small documentaries on Sukant and a TEDx video on his citizen science effort.