by Megan Zhang
How are young children affected when their parents frequently fight verbally and/or physically? Does being faced with chronically threatening conditions at home disrupt children’s ability to manage emotions such as fear and anxiety? The Neuroscience & Education Lab’s Cybele Raver and Clancy Blair sought to answer these questions in a recent study. The paper, titled “Poverty, Household Chaos, and Interparental Aggression Predict Children’s Ability to Recognize and Modulate Negative Emotions,” was recently accepted for publication by the psychology journal Development and Psychopathology.
Many developmental studies have concluded over the years that prolonged exposure to interparental fighting and violence in the home can lead children to become hyper-vigilant to negative emotional cues that signal fear or danger. On the other hand, other studies have pointed to the idea that children exposed to parental harshness and aggression have deficits in processing and encoding emotional information, such that they become less capable of making accurate attributions and conclusions about their own emotions, as well as that of others.
For this longitudinal study, Drs. Raver and Blair sought to examine whether aggression between parents is in fact positively or negatively associated with children’s ability to recognize emotional cues and to modulate negative emotions in the face of fear-inducing or threatening situations. 1025 children were followed from 6 to 58 months of age. Exposure to chronic poverty, and multiple measures of household chaos, were included to separate the effects of interparental conflict from the socioeconomic factors that sometimes accompany it. Greater exposure to chronic poverty, household chaos, and interparental conflict were all empirically distinguished as key contributors to 58-month-olds’ ability to perceive and modulate negative emotions.
To read more, look for this paper in an upcoming publication of Development and Psychopathology!