Attributions of Blame for Maltreatment as Predictors of YSR Internalizing and Externalizing Scores among Canadian Adolescents

Canadian researchers Robin McGee, David Wolfe, and James Olson (2001) tested adolescents’ attributions of blame for various kinds of maltreatment as predictors of YSR scores among 160 adolescents recruited from a child protection agency.

Nearly all the adolescents had experienced multiple kinds of maltreatment, including sexual abuse, physical maltreatment, witnessing family violence, neglect, and emotional maltreatment. The Attribution for Maltreatment Interview (AFMI) was used to obtain scores for self-blaming cognition; self-blaming affect; self-excusing; perpetrator blaming; and perpetrator excusing. For all types of maltreatment, girls’ attributions significantly predicted YSR Internalizing scores, whereas boys’ attributions predicted Internalizing scores only in relation to neglect. Girls’ YSR Externalizing scores were also predicted by attributions related to sexual abuse.

Some effect sizes for prediction of YSR Internalizing scores were quite large, ranging up to 46% of variance for girls’ attributions in relation to sexual abuse and 35% of variance for boys’ attributions in relation to neglect. McGee et al. also reported evidence for mediator vs. moderator effects of attributions on YSR and CBCL Internalizing and Externalizing scores. The authors concluded that their “findings point to a complex mechanism by which perceived maltreatment severity and attributions influence adjustment.

Each variable exerts both a combined and unique impact on symptomatology. Moreover, the extent to which the youth has coherently integrated the abuse experience with attributions is relevant. The more confused and conflicting the perceptions and attributions, the worse the observable behavior problems” (p. 843).

Reference: McGee, R., Wolfe, D., & Olson, J. (2001). Multiple maltreatment, attribution of blame, and adjustment among adolescents. Development and Psychopathology, 13, 827-846.