Findings from prior research on reward sensitivity in nonsuicidal self‐injury (NSSI) have been mixed. Childhood maltreatment is an independent risk factor for NSSI and for hyposensitivity to rewards. This study aimed to disentangle the role of reward sensitivity as a predictor of NSSI for those with an elevated severity of childhood maltreatment.
In a diverse undergraduate sample (N = 586), trait reward sensitivity (i.e., behavioral approach system subscales) and the severity of maltreatment were assessed as predictors of a lifetime history of NSSI. In a subset of this sample (n = 51), predictors of NSSI urge intensity were measured using ecological momentary assessment.
Individuals with elevated maltreatment who reported less positive responsiveness to rewards were more likely to have a lifetime history of NSSI. Those with elevated maltreatment who reported a lower likelihood to approach rewards experienced more intense NSSI urges across the ten‐day observation period. However, those with elevated maltreatment who reported a greater likelihood to approach rewards experienced less intense NSSI urges.
The role of reward sensitivity as a cognitive risk factor for NSSI varies depending on childhood maltreatment history. Findings indicate that, for those with elevated maltreatment, hypersensitivity to approaching rewards may decrease risk for NSSI urges.