Childhood maltreatment predicts daily stressor exposure in college students but not perceived stress or stress reactivity

Majel R. Baker, Viann N. Nguyen-Feng, Haema Nilakanta, Patricia A. Frazier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


The purpose of this observational longitudinal study was to investigate the role of childhood maltreatment in explaining individual differences in daily stress processes. College students (N = 253) completed the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire and a measure of neuroticism at baseline before completing 14 nightly surveys assessing exposure to daily stressors (particularly interpersonal stressors), perceived stressor severity, and negative affect. Given mixed findings in past research, no specific hypotheses were proffered. Generalized linear mixed modeling showed that students with a history of maltreatment experienced roughly one more stressor every 1-to-2 days compared with those without a history of maltreatment, and experienced an interpersonal stressor on approximately half of the 14 study days compared to about one quarter of the study days for those without a history of maltreatment. In contrast, childhood maltreatment (except for physical abuse) was unrelated to perceived stressor severity and stress reactivity, controlling for gender and neuroticism. This suggests that college students reporting childhood maltreatment have more daily stressors, but they neither perceive them as more stressful nor react to them more strongly. In exploratory analyses assessing exposure to specific stressors, childhood maltreatment was associated with reporting more financial, work-related, career, and grade-related stressors in addition to interpersonal stressors. These findings underscore the importance of assessing stressor exposure separately from stress reactions. They also suggest that both individualized skill-based interventions to reduce stressor exposure and campus-wide programs to reduce financial and other burdens on students may be warranted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)79-89
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of counseling psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2020


  • Childhood abuse
  • Childhood maltreatment
  • Daily diary
  • Experience sampling
  • Stress reactivity

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article

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