In this study, we drew on prospective, longitudinal data to investigate the long-term predictive significance of the quality of early parent-child relationship experiences for adults’ sympathetic nervous system (SNS) activity during conflict discussions with their romantic partners. Maternal sensitivity was repeatedly assessed across childhood via direct observations of mother-child interactions. When the children in the study became adults (34–37 years old), electrodermal activity—an index of SNS arousal and a psychophysiological marker of behavioral inhibition—was recorded for 37 participants while at rest and while they attempted to resolve conflicts in their romantic relationships. Individuals who had experienced less sensitive maternal caregiving during childhood had greater increases in electrodermal activity during conflict discussions with their adult partners, relative to resting conditions. This longitudinal association was not accounted for by observed or self-reported romantic-relationship quality, gender, ethnicity, or early socioeconomic factors.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This research was supported by National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Grant R01-HD054850 (to W. A. Collins), by National Institute of Mental Health Grant T32-MH015755-33 (to D. Cicchetti), and by a doctoral dissertation fellowship from the University of Minnesota (to K. L. Raby).
- childhood development
- interpersonal relationships
- marital conflict