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January 11, 2023 / JayMan

Does Childhood Maltreatment Cause Trouble Later On?

A new meta-analysis has dropped that sought to answer the question of whether childhood maltreatment leads to later mental health problems. This study is different from typical in that it tried to address the ever-pervasive problem of genetic confounding.

Old-school readers of my blog know what I’m talking about: the overwhelming majority of studies in human science, both medical and psychological, are flawed because they don’t take genetically-caused individual variation into account:

One great example is the association between income and IQ. People from impoverished backgrounds have lower IQs, on average, than people from wealthier backgrounds. Modern Western conventional wisdom assumes that poverty causes low IQ, when the reality is in fact the other way around: lower IQ people are less able, on average, to accumulate and generate wealth and (since IQ is highly heritable) more likely to come from families with lower wealth. There are numerous such associations, so much so that it led Emil Kirkegaard to coin fifth law of behavioral genetics.

As veteran readers and my Twitter ( https://twitter.com/JayMan471) followers know, I have long maintained that parenting and family influence has little to no effect on eventual adult behavioral traits. See my Behavioral Genetics Page for more. This derives from twin, adoption, and other behavioral genetic studies, which find that the role of family influence is minimal in most behavioral traits. The central role that parenting and upbringing is assumed to play turns out to be overblown. Yet, despite this, many of the usual genetically confounded studies continue to be done.

One caveat I have mentioned previously is the case of severe abuse and neglect. Obviously, malnutrition or severe injury (say brain damage) may just be able to have an effect. (However, I have stated here and on Twitter that the effect of many these may also be overblown.) Enter a recent study by Jessie Baldwin et al (Childhood Maltreatment and Mental Health Problems: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Quasi-Experimental Studies, 2023) that tried to study just that.

To their credit, the authors did try to address the genetic confounding problem:

Sounds great, and certainly light-years ahead of most social science, even in the Current Year. So what did they find?

After quasi experimental adjustment, a small association between childhood maltreatment and mental health problems remained (Cohen’s d=0.31, 95% CI=0.24, 0.37). This adjusted association between childhood maltreatment and mental health was consistent across different quasi-experimental methods, and generalized across different psychiatric disorders.

Conclusions: These findings are consistent with a small causal contribution of childhood maltreatment to mental health problems. Furthermore, the findings suggest that part of the overall risk of mental health problems in individuals exposed to maltreatment is due to wider genetic and environmental risk factors.

They offer a very nice tabulation of the data:


They were also diligent to check for publication bias and all those other things that are known to screw-up meta analyses. So case closed, right? Looks like there is a residual effect that remains after you adjust for confounding. As they put it:

Regarding confounding, we found that the association between childhood maltreatment and mental health in quasi experimental adjusted models was substantially (45%) smaller than in unadjusted models. Of note, the unadjusted association was moderate in magnitude, with a Cohen’s d of 0.56, which is similar to effect sizes reported in previous meta-analyses of non-quasi-experimental studies (see Table S10 in the online supplement). This reduction in effect size after quasi-experimental adjustment suggests that a large part of the overall relationship between childhood maltreatment and mental health is confounded by preexisting risk factors for psychopathology. Research is needed to identify the specific factors that elevate risk of psychopathology in maltreated children, which might include environmental adversities (e.g., socioeconomic disadvantage (9)) and genetic liability

It would only make sense, wouldn’t it? Maybe you can’t grow a better flower by watering it more but you can certainly grow a worse flower if you don’t water it all or give it junk. So am I going to concede this point on childhood maltreatment? Nope.

I read through the paper and the supplements and it seems that there is one more confound that they didn’t address: child-to-parent effects. Troubled adults are quite often difficult, troubled children. Such children are more likely to elicit harsher treatment from caregivers. This would even be in play even if you looked at identical twins (and old-schools readers know I have been critical of inferring positive effects from twin-control studies for similar reasons).

Hence, the small residual seemingly causal association between childhood maltreatment and eventual adult mental health could be due to this. Now, the authors did also look at studies looking at institutional maltreatment (e.g., the infamous Romanian orphanages) and found a similar magnitude effect. Although child-to-caregiver effects are still a concern, the genetic confound also rears it head there, since there is a racial component to orphaned children there–more likely to be ethnic Romani, for example (a group with lower average IQ than ethnic Romanians). So I don’t if we can call this study a win for the nurture assumption, yet.

We should oppose childhood maltreatment on moral grounds–because it’s a rotten thing to do children–and not because we think it will “damage” them, particularly mentally. That belief, to me, seems like a crappy motivation to be nice to your children than being nice to them for it’s own sake.

This is the first blog post I’ve made in literally years. It’s too soon to say if JayMan is back for good–but who knows, maybe you’ll hear more of me in the future. I am opening the tip jar for anyone who has enjoyed my work, past and present. I could use a few cents right now and any little bit really does help.

For new readers, if you want a review of some of work I’ve done, much of which has aged pretty damned will in the years since I’ve written it, here’s a review:

There’s my introduction to those new to the topic of Human Bio Diversity (HBD), my thorough (but soft) introduction to the matter that I’ve written:

JayMan’s Race, Inheritance, and IQ F.A.Q. (F.R.B.)

This will get you started.

Of course, there was my interview by Robert Stark (of The Stark Truth). That interview is up as a podcast here:

Robert Stark interviews Jayman – The Stark Truth With Robert Stark

Mainstream discourse, including the media (and a good part of the scientific establishment itself) spreads false information. Whether it be on IQ, race, heredity, parenting, diet, health, lifestyle, or homosexuality, complete rubbish rules the day. I have attempted to remedy this here.

To learn about me, please see my About Me page. There I talk a little about my background as well as provide a roadmap to my earlier publications, including the key pieces new readers should see.

Your first reading after that should be this. The foundation of HBD and indeed all human biological research is behavioral genetics. This has produced four (well, five) laws that are fundamental, the first of which is the plain statement that Did you know that parenting (beyond ensuring your children are healthy and safe and have basic human interaction) has no real impact on how children turn out as adults? That’s right. Read all about it:

The Behavioral Genetics Page

My earlier posting 100 Blog Posts – Reflection on HBD Blogging and What Lies Ahead reviews the topics I’ve talked about in the beginning, including fertility trends, and health and lifestyle wisdom.

My post 200 Blog Posts – Everything You Need to Know (To Start) is just that. Here I review the topics I’ve discussed in the preceding 100 posts, including the matter of guns and violence, the American Nations (the regional ethno/cultural/political divides across North America), and the problems with some of the people who talk about this topic.

A key thing is my series on clannishness, discussing HBD Chick’s work:

Clannishness – the Series: Zigzag Lightning in the Brain

Clannishness – the Series: How It Happened

Clannishness – the Series: A Finer-Grained Look at How It Happened

And about those American Nations, my page American Nations Series indexes the posts I’ve written based on the books American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America by Colin Woodard and Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America by David Hackett Fischer.

Did you know that most health and lifestyle knowledge is worthless, and probably won’t have much impact on your health or lifespan?

See:

IQ and Death
Trans Fat Hysteria and the Mystery of Heart Disease

On health and lifestyle, there is a lot of nonsense fluff on the matter of obesity. See:

Obesity Facts

And, there’s my critical look at mental health, and a misunderstanding of the role in human evolution in behavioral phenotypes, some of which are not valued by contemporary society

Features and Bugs

In the above post, I discuss homosexuality. The mainstream, accepted explanation for all manner of human behavioral variation, including individual and group differences, is some sort of social conditional or some sort of “environmental” effect. The one exception is sexual orientation, where we’re assured that it is 100% inborn and genetically inherited. Well, it turns out that that is not true. Indeed, this hard to reconcile with the fact that male twins are discordant for sexual orientation at least 75% of the time. See:

Greg Cochran’s “Gay Germ” Hypothesis – An Exercise in the Power of Germs

Also, you may want to see some of my other postings, like on the facts that “Ethnic Genetic Interests” Do Not Exist (Neither Does Group Selection) or about on the non-existence of free will:

No, You Don’t Have Free Will, and This Is Why

Or my post on the heritability (and hence intractability) of religious belief:

The Atheist Narrative

If you have liked my stuff, and want to help me through this crisis, please donate.

If you prefer, I will also take Bitcoins.

My wallet is 1DjjhBGxoRVfdjYo2QgSteMYLuXNVg3DiJ

I appreciate all your help!


Music track for this post: the return of JayMan. To think that this particular theme for the Rock is 20 years old next month! Holy cow!

One Comment

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  1. Eric / Jan 11 2023 4:50 PM

    Reblogged this on Calculus of Decay .

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