Developmental Timing of Trauma Exposure Relative to Puberty and Violent Behavior in Adulthood

Zhenyu Z. Zhang, Amy D. Marshall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Childhood trauma confers tremendous negative consequences for development, including the emergence of psychopathology and behavioral problems, yet the impact of different dimensions of trauma exposure remains unknown. Existing research suggests that, due to increased neuroplasticity, early childhood and puberty may serve as sensitive periods that elevate risk, but also provide windows of opportunity for prevention and intervention. We examined whether the developmental timing of exposure to potentially traumatic events is differentially associated with engagement in violence during early adulthood. College students (n = 356, 81% women) reported the nature and extent of their violent behavior as well as their exposure to potentially traumatic events using a developmentally sensitive measure of trauma exposure relative to individual differences in pubertal timing. Negative binomial regression models revealed that men and women who were exposed to at least one potentially traumatic event during puberty reported engagement in significantly more past year violent behavior. Additionally, men, but not women, exposed to trauma during early and middle childhood reported engagement in significantly more violent behavior. Findings suggest that puberty may serve as a unique sensitive period for trauma-related violent behavior among women, whereas exposure to potentially traumatic events at any time during or prior to puberty serves as a risk factor for men’s violent behavior in adulthood. This study informs future research on underlying mechanisms linking trauma exposure to violent behavior and suggests possible opportunities for increasing intervention efficiency and effectiveness when administered during puberty.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1726-1743
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Aggression, Maltreatment and Trauma
Issue number12
StatePublished - 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Health Professions (miscellaneous)
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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