Primary Faculty Mentor Name

Alice Schermerhorn

Project Collaborators

Alice Schermerhorn (Graduate Student Mentor)

Status

Graduate

Student College

College of Arts and Sciences

Program/Major

Psychological Science

Primary Research Category

Social Sciences

Presentation Title

Links Between Children’s Reactions to Interparental Conflict and Psychological Well-Being

Time

11:00 AM

Location

Silver Maple Ballroom - Social Sciences

Abstract

While it is well established that exposure to destructive interparental conflict can have negative effects on children’s psychological well-being (Harold & Sellers, 2018), less is known about how children’s immediate affective and arousal responses to interparental conflict are related to their psychological well-being. This was the focus of the current study. Given that stressful life events are strongly linked to both internalizing and externalizing problems in children (e.g. Kim, Conger, Elder, & Lorenz, 2003), we hypothesized that children who experienced a greater increase in negative affect and subjective sense of arousal in response to interparental conflict would also experience higher levels of internalizing and externalizing problems.

Data includes a sample of 101 children (52 boys, 48 girls, 1 gender-neutral child) ages 9 to 11 years, and their biological parents. Children reported their affect and arousal upon arrival to the lab (T1), after witnessing their parents discuss an interparental problem for ten minutes (T2), and after participating in a positive family conversation for five minutes (T3). Children also completed the Children’s Perceptions of Interparental Conflict questionnaire (CPIC; Grych & Fincham, 1990), measuring their appraisals of conflict.

Analyses included regressions to test for associations between children’s degree of change in affect/arousal state between time points (T1 to T2, T2 to T3, T1 to T3) and adjustment problems. All models included child age, gender, and SES, as well as coder-rated destructiveness and constructiveness of the conflict, to control for objectively rated characteristics of the conflicts.

Change scores were calculated by subtracting children’s affect/arousal score at the later timepoint in the comparison from the earlier timepoint (e.g., T1 minus T2;). Therefore, higher numbers indicated higher levels of affect/arousal at the time point that occurred first chronologically in the comparison. The degree of change in positive affect predicted child internalizing problems (see Table 1). Children who evidenced more of a decrease in positive affect from T1 to T2 had higher levels of internalizing problems. Children’s internalizing problems were also predicted by change in positive affect from T1 to T3. Children who did not return approximately to baseline levels of positive affect by the end of the study (i.e., had much higher levels of positive affect at baseline than after the positive conversation) had more internalizing problems. Additionally, the degree of change in arousal from T2 to T3 predicted child externalizing problems (see Table 2). Children who experienced a greater drop in arousal following the positive conversation also experienced higher levels of externalizing problems. Findings will be discussed in terms of the importance of children’s shifts in affect and arousal state for their behavioral and emotional functioning.

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Links Between Children’s Reactions to Interparental Conflict and Psychological Well-Being

While it is well established that exposure to destructive interparental conflict can have negative effects on children’s psychological well-being (Harold & Sellers, 2018), less is known about how children’s immediate affective and arousal responses to interparental conflict are related to their psychological well-being. This was the focus of the current study. Given that stressful life events are strongly linked to both internalizing and externalizing problems in children (e.g. Kim, Conger, Elder, & Lorenz, 2003), we hypothesized that children who experienced a greater increase in negative affect and subjective sense of arousal in response to interparental conflict would also experience higher levels of internalizing and externalizing problems.

Data includes a sample of 101 children (52 boys, 48 girls, 1 gender-neutral child) ages 9 to 11 years, and their biological parents. Children reported their affect and arousal upon arrival to the lab (T1), after witnessing their parents discuss an interparental problem for ten minutes (T2), and after participating in a positive family conversation for five minutes (T3). Children also completed the Children’s Perceptions of Interparental Conflict questionnaire (CPIC; Grych & Fincham, 1990), measuring their appraisals of conflict.

Analyses included regressions to test for associations between children’s degree of change in affect/arousal state between time points (T1 to T2, T2 to T3, T1 to T3) and adjustment problems. All models included child age, gender, and SES, as well as coder-rated destructiveness and constructiveness of the conflict, to control for objectively rated characteristics of the conflicts.

Change scores were calculated by subtracting children’s affect/arousal score at the later timepoint in the comparison from the earlier timepoint (e.g., T1 minus T2;). Therefore, higher numbers indicated higher levels of affect/arousal at the time point that occurred first chronologically in the comparison. The degree of change in positive affect predicted child internalizing problems (see Table 1). Children who evidenced more of a decrease in positive affect from T1 to T2 had higher levels of internalizing problems. Children’s internalizing problems were also predicted by change in positive affect from T1 to T3. Children who did not return approximately to baseline levels of positive affect by the end of the study (i.e., had much higher levels of positive affect at baseline than after the positive conversation) had more internalizing problems. Additionally, the degree of change in arousal from T2 to T3 predicted child externalizing problems (see Table 2). Children who experienced a greater drop in arousal following the positive conversation also experienced higher levels of externalizing problems. Findings will be discussed in terms of the importance of children’s shifts in affect and arousal state for their behavioral and emotional functioning.