Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Alice C. Schermerhorn
Research is lacking regarding the role of positive emotions expressed by parents during interparental conflict (IPC) on child functioning. This study examined the relationship between parents’ expressions of positive emotions (PE) during IPC and child functioning. Child functioning measures included children’s feelings of happiness during an IPC laboratory task between their parents, cognitions regarding IPC in the home, feelings of emotional security in the marital system, and psychological adjustment (i.e., internalizing and externalizing behaviors, and depression). In addition, this study tested whether PE predicted these measures of child functioning above and beyond conflict resolution, and whether child temperamental surgency moderated the relationship between PE and child functioning. It was hypothesized that more PE would be related to more adaptive child functioning scores (Research Question 1), and that this relationship would occur above and beyond conflict resolution (Research Question 2). Furthermore, it was hypothesized that for children with high levels of temperamental surgency, more PE would be related to more adaptive child functioning scores compared to less PE (Research Question 3), mainly due to the proclivity for surgent individuals to experience and express positive emotions more strongly compared to less-surgent individuals.
Participants included 98 parent dyads and their children between the ages of 9-11 years. The family triad came in to the laboratory and completed questionnaires and a problem discussion task in which parents discussed a conflict topic with their child present in the room. Trained coders coded parents’ expressions of happiness during the problem discussion task, as well as signs of conflict resolution. Children reported on their feelings of happiness immediately following the problem discussion, and on their perceptions of their parent’s IPCs and their feelings of depression. Mother’s reported on their children’s security in the marital system, internalizing and externalizing behaviors, and surgency traits. These child functioning measures were regressed on mother PE and father PE separately to determine whether parents’ expressions of PE were related to child functioning. Child gender, family socioeconomic status, and an average of parents’ negative emotions (i.e., anger, sadness, and fear) during the problem discussion were included in the analyses as potential covariates.
Results from Research Question 1 were such that mother PE was positively associated with children’s feelings of happiness during the problem discussion, and father PE was negatively associated with children's negative emotional reactivity (a component of children’s sense of emotional security in the marital system). Research Question 2 results showed that mother PE predicted child happiness above and beyond conflict resolution, and that father PE predicted children’s negative emotional reactivity above and beyond conflict resolution.
Finally, Research Question 3 results showed that child temperamental surgency moderated the relationship between mother and father PE and children’s reports of conflict properties (i.e., children’s perceptions of their parents’ conflicts as more frequent, more intense, and less resolved). Decomposition of the interactions indicated that as father PE increased, children with surgency scores in the top 66th percentile reported increases in conflict properties. Alternatively, for children with surgency scores below the 25th percentile, increases in father PE was associated with decreases in reports of conflict properties. All other analyses were nonsignificant. This study provides an important first step in determining whether parents’ expressions of positive emotions during IPC are related to child functioning, and whether child temperament plays a role in this relationship.
Number of Pages
Woolfolk, Hannah Childs, "Happily Arguing: The Role of Parental Positive Emotions During Interparental Conflict on Child Functioning" (2019). Graduate College Dissertations and Theses. 1004.
Available for download on Sunday, November 01, 2020