Childhood sexual abuse and abnormal personality: A population-based study

P. Moran*, C. Coffey, A. Chanen, A. Mann, J. B. Carlin, G. C. Patton

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)
298 Downloads (Pure)


Background Childhood sexual abuse (CSA) has been shown to be a risk factor for personality disorder (PD). However, no previous studies have examined whether associations exist between sexual abuse and abnormal personality as measured both categorically and dimensionally. Such enquiry would more fully illuminate the impact of CSA on adult personality.

Method Using a large nationally representative sample, we set out to examine associations between CSA and categorically defined PD. We also examined associations between CSA and the five dimensions of personality (openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism). A total of 1520 young adults were interviewed to determine the prevalence of sexual abuse occurring before age 16 years. A dimensional measure of personality was completed by 1469 participants, and 1145 had an informant-based PD assessment.

Results PD was independently associated with repeated CSA [fully adjusted odds ratio (OR) 1.9, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.1-3.4]. Repeated sexual abuse was also associated with higher neuroticism and lower agreeableness (p values for both <0.001). Adjusting for the effects of potential confounders and mediators, including earlier symptoms of anxiety and depression, had little impact on the strength of associations.

Conclusions We conclude that repeated CSA is independently associated with categorically defined PD, and also with higher neuroticism and lower agreeableness. Our findings suggest that if a dimensional classification of PDs is adopted in future classification systems, there might be meaningful continuity with previous aetiological research conducted using the current categorical system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1311-1318
Number of pages8
JournalPsychological Medicine
Issue number6
Early online date27 Sept 2010
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2011


  • Child abuse
  • epidemiology
  • personality
  • personality disorder
  • psychiatry


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