Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.


Psychological and Brain Sciences

Committee Chair

Newton, Tamara L.

Author's Keywords

Self-efficacy; psychological abuse; college women; psychological maltreatment


Self-efficacy; Psychological abuse; Identity (Psychology); Women college students--Mental health


The current research proposed that psychological abuse within an intimate relationship erodes one's self-efficacy and aimed to demonstrate a negative relationship between past psychological abuse and how one reacts to a challenge. It was hypothesized that when faced with a challenging task past psychological abuse would be related to decreased task persistence, increased negative affect, and choosing low-difficulty future tasks. Each of these relationships would then be simultaneously mediated by general and specific self-efficacy. The study was conducted in two phases with undergraduate women. During the first phase participants self-reported demographic and relationship history information, level of general self-efficacy, and level of past psychological abuse in a romantic relationship via an online survey. Eligible participants were invited to a participate in the study's second phase, where they were presented with a challenging task - a set of unsolvable anagrams - and their task persistence, change in affect, and chosen difficulty level of a future task were assessed. A total of 300 participants completed the first study phase, with an additional 60 participants completing both the first and second phases. A three-path, joint significance test of mediation tested study hypotheses. Past psychological abuse significantly predicted decreases in general self-efficacy, but when controlling for past psychological abuse, general self-efficacy did not significantly predict specific self-efficacy. When controlling for past psychological abuse and general self-efficacy, specific self-efficacy did not significantly predict task persistence or change in negative affect, but did significantly predict the chosen difficulty level of a future task. Support for the proposed models was not found. As predicted, past psychological abuse was negatively and directly related to general self-efficacy, but was not related to specific self-efficacy, task persistence, or change in negative affect. A direct relationship was also found between specific self-efficacy and the chosen difficulty level of a future task; this relationship was not hypothesized but is consistent with the literature. The restricted ranges of past psychological abuse and general self-efficacy found in the sample, as well as internal and external validity limitations, are discussed as possible explanations for the study's results. Future directions are also outlined.