Contamination in Observational Research on Child Maltreatment: A Conceptual and Empirical Review With Implications for Future Research

Chad E. Shenk, Kenneth A. Shores, Nilam Ram, John M. Felt, Ulziimaa Chimed-Ochir, Anneke E. Olson, Zachary F. Fisher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Contamination is a methodological phenomenon occurring in child maltreatment research when individuals in an established comparison condition have, in reality, been exposed to maltreatment during childhood. The current paper: (1) provides a conceptual and methodological introduction to contamination in child maltreatment research, (2) reviews the empirical literature demonstrating that the presence of contamination biases causal estimates in both prospective and retrospective cohort studies of child maltreatment effects, (3) outlines a dual measurement strategy for how child maltreatment researchers can address contamination, and (4) describes modern statistical methods for generating causal estimates in child maltreatment research after contamination is controlled. Our goal is to introduce the issue of contamination to researchers examining the effects of child maltreatment in an effort to improve the precision and replication of causal estimates that ultimately inform scientific and clinical decision-making as well as public policy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalChild Maltreatment
StateAccepted/In press - 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology

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