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Marital conflict causes stress in children, may affect cognitive development

Date:
March 28, 2013
Source:
Society for Research in Child Development
Summary:
Marital conflict is a significant source of environmental stress for children. Witnessing such conflict may harm their stress response systems, affecting their mental and intellectual development. Research findings suggest that stress from marital conflict can hinder children's development of cognitive ability.

Marital conflict is a significant source of environmental stress for children, and witnessing such conflict may harm children's stress response systems which, in turn, may affect their mental and intellectual development.

These conclusions come from a new study by researchers at Auburn University and the Catholic University of America. The study appears in the journal Child Development.

Researchers looked at 251 children from a variety of backgrounds who lived in two-parent homes. The children reported on their exposure to marital conflict when they were 8, providing information on the frequency, intensity, and lack of resolution of conflicts between their parents. The study gauged how children's stress response system functioned by measuring respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), an index of activity in the parasympathetic branch of the body's stress response system. RSA has been linked to the ability to regulate attention and emotion. Children's ability to rapidly solve problems and quickly see patterns in new information also was measured at ages 8, 9, and 10.

Children who witnessed more marital conflict at age 8 showed less adaptive RSA reactivity at 9, but this was true only for children who had lower resting RSA. In addition, children with lower baseline RSA whose stress response systems were also less adaptive developed mental and intellectual ability more slowly.

"The findings provide further evidence that stress affects the development of the body's stress response systems that help regulate attention, and that how these systems work is tied to the development of cognitive ability," explains J. Benjamin Hinnant, assistant professor of psychology at the Catholic University of America and one of the researchers.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Society for Research in Child Development. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. J. Benjamin Hinnant, Mona El-Sheikh, Margaret Keiley, Joseph A. Buckhalt. Marital Conflict, Allostatic Load, and the Development of Children's Fluid Cognitive Performance. Child Development, 2013; DOI: 10.1111/cdev.12103

Cite This Page:

Society for Research in Child Development. "Marital conflict causes stress in children, may affect cognitive development." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 March 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/03/130328080225.htm>.
Society for Research in Child Development. (2013, March 28). Marital conflict causes stress in children, may affect cognitive development. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/03/130328080225.htm
Society for Research in Child Development. "Marital conflict causes stress in children, may affect cognitive development." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/03/130328080225.htm (accessed October 21, 2014).

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