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11-03-2017 | Uitgave 7/2017 Open Access

Quality of Life Research 7/2017

Executive function as a mediator in the link between single or complex trauma and posttraumatic stress in children and adolescents

Quality of Life Research > Uitgave 7/2017
Rosanne op den Kelder, Judith B. M. Ensink, Geertjan Overbeek, Marija Maric, Ramón J. L. Lindauer



In this study, we examined whether there is a mediating role of executive function (EF) in the relationship between trauma exposure and posttraumatic stress in youth.


Children and adolescents exposed to trauma were recruited at an academic center for child psychiatry in The Netherlands. The total sample consisted of 119 children from 9 to 17 years old (M = 13.65, SD = 2.45). Based on retrospective life event information, the sample was divided into three groups: a single trauma group (n = 41), a complex trauma group (n = 38), and a control group that was not exposed to traumatic events (n = 40).


Our findings revealed that youth exposed to complex trauma had more deficits in EF compared to youth in the single trauma and control groups. EF was found to partly mediate posttraumatic stress symptoms for youth exposed to complex trauma, but not for youth exposed to single trauma. Youth exposed to complex trauma showed more deficits in EF, which was in turn associated with higher levels of posttraumatic stress symptoms.


Our findings provide partial support for the role of EF in mediating posttraumatic stress outcomes for youth exposed to complex trauma. This points to the important role of EF in the etiology and treatment of complexly traumatized youth.

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