Date Awarded

Spring 2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.)




Danielle H Dallaire

Committee Member

Lee A Kirkpatrick

Committee Member

Elizabeth B Raposa


Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are associated with social, emotional, and cognitive impairments resulting from disrupted neurodevelopment. These impairments manifest as health risk behaviors (HRBs) including tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, illicit drug use, and sexual risk behaviors. The current study assessed the relation between ACEs and HRBs by examining the cognitive abilities of 144 college students (M = 18.92 years; 56.3% female; 63.9% White; M = .078 ACEs). Participants completed an interview (parental incarceration, Criminogenic Cognitions Scale), surveys (Youth Risk Behavior Survey, ACE Questionnaire), delay discounting task, the Tower of Hanoi, and the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test. Results revealed a graded relationship between ACE scores and illicit drug use risk behaviors, ACE scores and sexual risk behaviors, and household criminality and sexual risk behaviors. Students who reported more ACEs had an increase in the likelihood of reporting illicit drug use and sexual risk behaviors. Although no significant mediation effects of cognitive impairment were observed, a path analysis model revealed that a subscale of the Criminogenic Cognitions Scale (Negative Attitudes toward Authority) mediated the relation between ACE scores and sexual risk behaviors. These findings demonstrate the cognitive impairments may not serve as the best explanation for the relation between ACEs and HRBs in college students. However, these findings do indicate that a universal approach to preventing and reducing HRBs among at-risk college students may be inappropriate. Rather, it may be best to target specific HRBs.



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