Childhood development affected by conflict
A child's development can be a fragile thing, and any number of environmental factors can significantly affect the way a young mind grows. Now, a study from the University of Auburn and the Catholic University of America has found that exposing a child to marital conflict – fighting parents, for example – triggers the child's stress response systems, and that can impair his or her cognitive development.
The study looked at 251 children from a variety of backgrounds, all of whom lived in two-parent households. When the children were eight years old, they were asked to report on the frequency, intensity and lack of resolution of conflict between his or her parents. The study measured the child's respiratory stress arrhythmia, which is associated with stress response. This index is also linked to the ability to regulate attention and emotion in the brain.
Children who witnessed more conflict had stress responses that were less adaptive and they also developed mental intellectual ability more slowly. According to the researchers, these findings provide more evidence for the impact of a less than healthy home environment.