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Controlling contamination in child maltreatment research: Impact on effect size estimates for child behavior problems measured throughout childhood and adolescence

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 March 2021

Chad E. Shenk*
Department of Human Development and Family Studies, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, USA Department of Pediatrics, The Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine, Hershey, PA, USA
Joseph R. Rausch
The Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital, Columbus, OH, USA Department of Pediatrics, The Ohio State University College of Medicine, Columbus, OH, USA
Kenneth A. Shores
School of Education, University of Delaware, Newark, DE, USA
Elizabeth K. Allen
Department of Human Development and Family Studies, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, USA
Anneke E. Olson
Department of Human Development and Family Studies, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, USA
Author for Correspondence: Chad Shenk, Ph.D., 115 Health and Human Development Building, University Park, PA 16802; Email:


Contamination, when members of a comparison or control condition are exposed to the event or intervention under scientific investigation, is a methodological phenomenon that downwardly biases the magnitude of effect size estimates. This study tested a novel approach for controlling contamination in observational child maltreatment research. Data from The Longitudinal Studies of Child Abuse and Neglect (LONGSCAN; N = 1354) were obtained to estimate the risk of confirmed child maltreatment on trajectories of internalizing and externalizing behaviors before and after controlling contamination. Baseline models, where contamination was uncontrolled, demonstrated a risk for greater internalizing (b = .29, p < .001, d = .40) and externalizing (b = .14, p = .040, d = .19) behavior trajectories. Final models, where contamination was controlled by separating the comparison condition into subgroups that did or did not self-report maltreatment, also demonstrated risks for greater internalizing (b = .37, p < .001, d = .51) and externalizing (b = .22, p = .028, d = .29) behavior trajectories. However, effect size estimates in final models were 27.5%–52.6% larger compared to baseline models. Controlling contamination in child maltreatment research can strengthen effect size estimates for child behavior problems, aiding future child maltreatment research design and analysis.

Regular Article
© The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press

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