Early Neglect and the Development of Aggression in Toddlerhood: The Role of Working Memory

Elizabeth M. Demeusy, Elizabeth D. Handley, Fred A. Rogosch, Dante Cicchetti, Sheree L. Toth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Previous research has provided evidence for the robust relation between maltreatment and the development of externalizing behavior, including aggression. However, less empirical attention has been given to the specific role of neglect. The current study aimed to examine the role of working memory in the association between early neglect and aggression in toddlerhood. Longitudinal data were collected from 89 infants and their biological mothers when the infant was approximately 12, 26, and 38 months old. History of neglect was assessed at 12 months using official Child Protective Service records. Working memory and mental development were assessed at 26 months. Aggression was measured using maternal report at 38 months. Data were analyzed using structural equation modeling, and mediation was tested using 95% asymmetric confidence intervals. Results indicated that infants who experienced neglect exhibited poorer working memory abilities, specifically spatial working memory, and higher rates of aggression in toddlerhood. In addition, spatial working memory mediated the relation between neglect and aggression, suggesting that this may be one promising target for intervention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)344-354
Number of pages11
JournalChild Maltreatment
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 1 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This study was supported by Spunk Fund, Inc., National Institute of Mental Health (MH54643), and Administration of Children, Youth, and Families.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2018.


  • aggression
  • child maltreatment
  • neglect
  • structural equation modeling
  • working memory

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