Predictors of Differential Responding on a Sentence Completion Task in Traumatized Children

Brittany B. Kugler, Marlene Bloom, Lauren B. Kaercher, Samantha Nagy, Tatyana V. Truax, Kevin M. Kugler, Joseph F. McGuire, Eric A. Storch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Information-processing theories posit that persons who have experienced trauma may have disturbed emotional processing and therefore exhibit an excess of negative responses to otherwise neutral cues. The role of this mechanism in traumatized children has yet to be fully investigated. This study examined the relationship of varied clinical characteristics and theoretically relevant moderating variables to increased trauma related responding on a non-idiographic sentence completion task. One hundred and eighty-nine children (ages 6-17) residing at a residential home between 1996 and 2011 who had experienced physical, emotional and/or sexual abuse were administered a sentence completion task and the Trauma Symptom Checklist for Children (TSCC) shortly after their admission. Three independent raters determined whether sentence completion responses were trauma related (TRR), non-trauma related, or ambiguous. Trauma related responses were then reviewed for either avoidant/denial style responding or loss related responding. The TSCC posttraumatic stress subscale (PTS) was the only subscale that was uniquely related to TRR. A significant interaction between abuse type and PTS was found with sexual abuse moderating the effect of PTS on TRR. Additionally, age at assessment was positively correlated with both TRR and loss related responding. Time since removal from home was negatively correlated with TRR. Gender differences were found for TRR and loss related responding. These findings highlight the empirical relevance of the sentence completion task in clinical research. Results are discussed in terms of their implications for research, assessment, and intervention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)244-252
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Child and Family Studies
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Anxiety
  • Children
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Projective
  • Sexual abuse
  • Trauma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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