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Author Notes:

Correspondence: Erin C. Dunn Psychiatric and Neurodevelopmental Genetics Unit, Center for Genomic Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, 185 Cambridge Street, Simches Research Building 6th Floor (room 6.252), Boston, MA 02114. Phone: 617 726 9387; Fax: 617 726 0830. dunnreprints@gmail.com.

I, Dr. Dunn, created the analytic plan, supervised the data analysis, interpreted the results, and drafted the manuscript. I also had access to all data and take responsibility for the accuracy of the data analysis.

Ms. Nishimi conducted the literature search, performed the data analysis, and assisted in drafting the manuscript.

Ms. Gomez conducted the literature search and assisted in drafting the manuscript.

Dr. Powers contributed to the original data collection, provided early comments regarding the data analysis plan, interpreted the results, and read early drafts of the manuscript.

Dr. Bradley oversaw the original data collection and provided early comments regarding the data analysis plan.

All authors contributed to and approve of the final manuscript.

The authors thank Alice Renaud for her assistance in preparing this manuscript for publication.

Conflicts of interest: None.


Research Funding:

Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health within the National Institutes of Health under Award Numbers K01 MH102403 (Dunn) and F32 MH102890 (Powers) and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development under Award Number R01 HD071982 (Bradley).


  • Science & Technology
  • Life Sciences & Biomedicine
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Psychiatry
  • Neurosciences & Neurology
  • Sensitive periods
  • Emotion regulation
  • Emotion dysregulation
  • Child maltreatment
  • Trauma

Developmental timing of trauma exposure and emotion dysregulation in adulthood: Are there sensitive periods when trauma is most harmful?


Journal Title:

Journal of Affective Disorders


Volume 227


, Pages 869-877

Type of Work:

Article | Post-print: After Peer Review


Background This study aimed to determine whether there were sensitive periods when a first exposure to trauma was most associated with emotion dysregulation symptoms in adulthood. Methods Adult participants came from a public urban hospital in Atlanta, GA (n = 1944). Lifetime trauma exposure was assessed using the Traumatic Events Inventory (TEI). Multiple linear regression models were used to assess the association between the developmental timing of first trauma exposure, classified as early childhood (ages 0–5), middle childhood (ages 6–10), adolescence (ages 11–18), and adulthood (ages 19+), on adult emotion dysregulation symptoms, measured using the abbreviated Emotion Dysregulation Scale. Results Participants exposed to trauma at any age had higher emotion dysregulation scores than their unexposed peers. However, participants first exposed to child maltreatment or interpersonal violence during middle childhood had higher emotion dysregulation scores relative to those first exposed during other developmental stages; these developmental timing differences were detected even after controlling for sociodemographic factors, exposure to other trauma, and frequency of exposure to trauma. Further, after controlling for current psychiatric symptoms, the effect of other interpersonal trauma exposure in middle childhood was diminished and first exposure to other interpersonal violence in early childhood was associated with significantly lower emotion dysregulation symptoms. Limitations Limitations of this study include the use of retrospective reports and absence of complete information about trauma severity or duration. Conclusion These findings should be replicated in other population-based samples with prospective designs to confirm the importance of developmental timing of trauma on later emotion dysregulation.

Copyright information:

© 2017 Elsevier B.V.

This is an Open Access work distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

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