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Journal Article


Kaufman J, Zigler E. Am. J. Orthopsychiatry 1987; 57(2): 186-192.


(Copyright © 1987, American Orthopsychiatric Association, Publisher Wiley Blackwell)






The belief that abused children are likely to become abusive parents is widely accepted. The authors review the literature cited to support this hypothesis and demonstrate that its unqualified acceptance is unfounded. Mediating factors that affect transmission are outlined and the findings of several investigations are integrated to estimate the true rate of transmission.

VioLit summary:

The aim of this article by Kaufman and Zigler was to demonstrate how unqualified acceptance of the intergenerational hypothesis of child abuse is unfounded based on the methodological shortcomings of prior research. In addition, mediating factors that affect transmission of violence from one generation to the next were outlined.

The authors followed a non-experimental design in which past research testing the intergenerational hypothesis of child abuse was reviewed.

The authors began by critiquing four principal types of studies which have supported the intergenerational hypothesis. Case history studies have generally relied on observations of parents whose children were treated in hospital emergency rooms for nonaccidental injuries. Such studies have limited generalizability, the authors argued, due to weaknesses in sampling design, operationalization of variables, and use of descriptive and inferential statistics in reporting research findings. Likewise, studies which rely on reviews of agency records were said to have similar methodological problems which limits the conclusiveness of the findings. An additional problem with such studies is that omissions in agency records are rarely systematically recorded. The third type of study supporting the intergenerational hypothesis has been the clinical interview study. The authors found that clinical studies produce inconclusive results as well because they lack a comparison group. Finally, self-report studies have not been guided as much by the psychiatric model of abuse, but have instead explored multiple factors which might contribute to child abuse. One weakness of self-report studies is that the statistical relationships among the different variables have rarely been explored to determine the relative effects of various factors.
The authors next critiqued examples of each of these different types of studies. In a case history study of parents whose children were treated in intensive care nurseries, the present authors found that the reported intergenerational transmission rate was a reflection of both the subjects and experimental design chosen. The second study relied on semi-structured interviews with a sample of high-risk, low-income, predominately single-parent mothers. The authors found that the validity of the study was jeopardized by the broad definition of "current abuse" which the study had employed. Since all different types of abuse were included in the definition, the present authors found the study to overrepresent the link between a history of abuse and current abuse. An additional weakness cited was that the study failed to control for other variables such as poverty, stress and social isolation which could influence parenting in addition to a past history of abuse. The study also reported factors which mediate the likelihood of the abused becoming the abuser. The authors found this study to be valuable, however, for its discussion of the interrelationships among the many determinants of abuse. The final study which was critiqued utilized self-report questionnaires to interview a representative sample of two parent families with a child between the ages of 3 and 17. The authors questioned whether the low transmission rate of 18% was an underestimation based on the narrow definition of a history of abuse and the exclusion of single parents and parents of children in the 0-2 range.
The authors concluded from past research that the rate of intergenerational transmission appears to be between 25 and 35 percent. Such a rate would suggest that about one-third of the parents who have histories of abuse will subject their children to abuse. Although that figure is about six times higher than the base rate for abuse in the general population, the authors argued that history of abuse is only one of many possible determinants of transmission. The authors closed by suggesting that the consequences for some adults of such unqualified acceptance of the intergenerational hypothesis is that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The authors recommended that future research should focus less on the question of whether or not abused children become abusive parents. Rather, future research would better guide judicial and policy interventions by determining which conditions promote the transmission of abuse. Moreover, unqualified acceptance of the intergenerational hypothesis has perhaps erroneously limited the scope of the debate.

The authors present an interesting discussion of the methodological constraints on unqualified acceptance of the intergenerational hypothesis. Both strengths and weaknesses from prior research findings are critiqued in a clear and well organized discussion. It would have been helpful, however, if the authors had identified determinants of the transmission of abuse which warrant more attention than consideration of a past history of abuse only. Overall, the authors provide a valuable assessment of the current debate surrounding the intergenerational hypothesis. The present work has important implications for future policy decisions as well as research in child abuse. (CSPV Abstract - Copyright © 1992-2007 by the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence, Institute of Behavioral Science, Regents of the University of Colorado)
N1 - Call Number: F-407, AB-407
KW - Intergenerational Transmission of Child Abuse
KW - Intergenerational Transmission of Violence
KW - Child Abuse Effects
KW - Child Abuse Causes
KW - Child Abuse Victim
KW - Child Abuse Offender
KW - Child Physical Abuse Causes
KW - Child Physical Abuse Effects
KW - Child Physical Abuse Offender
KW - Child Physical Abuse Victim
KW - Child Victim
KW - Childhood Victimization
KW - Childhood Experience
KW - Adult Offender
KW - Adult Parent
KW - Adult Violence
KW - Theory
KW - Parent Offender
KW - Domestic Violence Effects
KW - Domestic Violence Causes
KW - Domestic Violence Offender
KW - Domestic Violence Victim
KW - Long-Term Effects

Language: en


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