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Midlife self-reported social support as a buffer against premature mortality risks associated with childhood abuse


Research has linked childhood abuse to a plethora of adverse health outcomes in adulthood1,2. However, whether positive experiences in adulthood much beyond cessation of abuse exposure can offset these adverse health risks remains unclear. Using a sample of 6,078 adults from the National Survey of Midlife Development in the United States (MIDUS), we examined whether adult self-reported social support decreased mortality risk associated with self-reported exposure to three types of childhood abuse: severe physical abuse, modest physical abuse and emotional abuse. Greater self-reported social support was related to reduced mortality risk; however, this relation was qualified by exposure to childhood abuse. For each type of abuse, self-reported social support was linked to a larger reduction in mortality risk among individuals reporting childhood abuse compared with those reporting minimal or no exposure to abuse. These findings suggest that supportive relationships in midlife can partly offset the mortality risks that seem to be set in motion by childhood experiences of abuse.

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The MIDUS study was supported by the National Institute on Aging (P01-AG020166) and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Research Network. Authors’ efforts were supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (R01-HL122328 to G.E.M; F32-HL134276 to J.J.C.). The funders had no role in study design, collection and analysis of data, manuscript preparation, or the decision to publish.

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J.J.C. and G.E.M. developed the study concept. J.J.C. conducted data analyses and interpretation under the supervision of G.E.M. J.J.C. and G.E.M. drafted the manuscript, and E.C. provided critical revisions. All authors approved the final version of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Jessica J. Chiang.

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Chiang, J.J., Chen, E. & Miller, G.E. Midlife self-reported social support as a buffer against premature mortality risks associated with childhood abuse. Nat Hum Behav 2, 261–268 (2018).

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