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Department of Psychology Clinical Psychology for Children/Adolescents and Couples/Families

Effects of videotaped interadult discord on children’s state as a function of interparental conflict at home


A first generation of research established over many years the association between interparental conflict and child maladjustment. Recent work has been increasingly concerned with a process-oriented perspective concerning the underlying pathways. However, little is known about the effects of parental discord on children’s attentional performance and the potential interference with the physiological and emotional state. This study examined 94 children being 11 to 13 years old and their mothers. Children’s psychological, physiological, and attentional responding to a 1-minute videotaped sequence was measured by questionnaires, skin conductance level reactivity (SCLR) and an attention task. Children were randomly assigned to three experimental video conditions: (1) a couple conflict condition (interadult verbal conflict situation), (2) an arousal condition (sequence of an action movie), and (3) a control condition (neutral scene). Children and their mothers fulfilled a set of questionnaires to assess perceived interparental conflict holding at home.
This study emphasizes conflict communication of parents to be either a possibly powerful trigger of attention problems in children and adolescents (when conflicts are destructive) or an important protective factor in buffering adverse effects (when they are constructive). This is highly relevant given the severe consequences of attention problems for children’s subsequent psychological and educational development and considering that the current body of research on environmental factors that increase child’s vulnerability to attention disorders seems much sparser than on the neurobiological and genetic aspects of etiology.