Adolescents’ emotion regulatory capacities modulate the relationship between child maltreatment experiences and psychopathology. Affective inhibitory control constitutes an important part of emotion regulation and involves the ability to regulate automatic or prepotent responses to irrelevant and potentially distracting emotional information.
A nationally representative sample of adolescents (n = 9,240; 49% girls; Mage = 14 years; SD = 0.9), of which n = 4,261 (55% girls; Mage = 14 years; SD = 0.9) were exposed to child maltreatment, conducted an emotional go/no-go task. Participants were presented with angry facial expressions as emotional no-go stimuli in order to examine their ability to inhibit behavioral responses to threatening task-irrelevant stimuli.
Affective inhibitory control problems were uniquely related to internalizing problems in maltreated adolescents. Gender effects were observed; the relationship was significant in girls but not in boys. Moreover, affective inhibitory control moderated the relationship between exposure to psychological abuse and internalizing problems in girls.
We did not observe any relationship between inhibitory control and internalizing problems when neutral faces were presented as task-irrelevant information. Findings suggest that reduced ability to inhibit threatening, but task-irrelevant, information is related to internalizing problems in maltreated adolescent girls.
Results highlight the importance of affective inhibitory control as a potential moderating mechanism in individual risk for experiencing internalizing problems in abused adolescents.