Child maltreatment is a complex, insidious problem that exerts an astronomical toll on individuals, families, and society. Advancing knowledge regarding the early developmental processes that contribute to adverse outcomes in maltreated children is thus of high public health significance. The development of trust in young children is an expanding area of inquiry. In addition to further investigation of normative processes in trust competencies, limited research has been conducted to elucidate contributors to individual differences in trust development. Significantly, no research has investigated trust in maltreated children, despite the likelihood of trust capacities being jeopardized in these youngsters. Accordingly, research on emerging trust in maltreated children would address a critical barrier to understanding important, unstudied impairments in early social development that have crucial implications for subsequent interpersonal and relationship functioning in maltreated individuals, and consequent mental health liabilities. In the present application, we propose to recruit 300 36- to 42-month-old children from low income families;150 children will have a history of child maltreatment and 150 will have no maltreatment history. The children and their mothers will participate in four laboratory sessions to assess components of epistemic trust, self- reliance vs. deference in trust decision-making, and source memory. The three epistemic trust tasks vary in terms of the degree of cognitive vs. socio-affective sources of information. Mother-child attachment security, theory of mind/false belief understanding, and inhibitory control also will be assessed. Additionally, separate Event Related Potential assessments will be conducted with stimuli yoked to that used in the three epistemic trust assessments. Accordingly, the measurements to be obtained constitute a multilevel assessment of diverse domains that are implicated in contributing to individual differences in the development of children's early trust capacities. Moreover, investigation of these domains holds great promise for identifying mechanisms that may contribute to difficulties that young maltreated children are likely to exhibit in the development of trust. Assessing the consequences of maltreatment occurring in the first three years of life on children's ability to develop trust in others has important implications for their social, interpersonal, and affective development, as well as subsequent mental health. The research also will greatly expand the understanding of normative trust development. This research will have important implications for public health. In addition to advancing knowledge regarding the multilevel developmental roots of early difficulties in trust development, the research will provide valuable direction for early prevention and intervention strategies. Given the multiple mechanisms that are likely to be identified in contributing to early, compromised trust development, insights into different intervention targets will be elucidated.

Public Health Relevance

The proposed multilevel investigation of 36- to 42-month-olds with and without a history of child abuse and neglect will expand knowledge of the early development of trust in children and evaluate the influence of mother-child attachment, theory of mind, inhibitory control, and neurophysiological processing of cognitive and affective stimuli as processes contributing to variation in children's trust development. This study will be the first t investigate trust development in young maltreated children, as well as to demonstrate how other compromised developmental processes resulting from maltreatment promote difficulties in early trust competencies. The results will have important implications for understanding early social-cognitive and socio- affective liabilities in trust development with significant implications for prevention and intervention.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Research Project (R01)
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Psychosocial Development, Risk and Prevention Study Section (PDRP)
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Esposito, Layla E
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University of Rochester
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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