Understanding children's emotional processes and behavioral strategies in the context of marital conflict

Kalsea J. Koss, Melissa R.W. George, Kathleen N. Bergman, E. M. Cummings, Patrick T. Davies, Dante Cicchetti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


Marital conflict is a distressing context in which children must regulate their emotion and behavior; however, the associations between the multidimensionality of conflict and children's regulatory processes need to be examined. The current study examined differences in children's (N=207, mean age=8.02. years) emotions (mad, sad, scared, and happy) and behavioral strategies to regulate conflict exposure during resolved, unresolved, escalating, and child-rearing marital conflict vignettes. Children's cortisol levels were assessed in relation to child-rearing and resolved conflict vignettes. Anger and sadness were associated with escalating and child-rearing conflicts, fearfulness was related to escalating and unresolved conflicts, and happiness was associated with resolution. Anger was associated with children's strategies to stop conflict, whereas sadness was associated with monitoring and avoidant strategies. Cortisol recovery moderated the link between fearfulness and behavioral regulation. These results highlight the importance of children's emotions and regulatory processes in understanding the impact of marital conflict.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)336-352
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2011

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by Grant R01 MH57318 from the National Institute of Mental Health awarded to Patrick T. Davies and E. Mark Cummings. The authors are grateful to the families who participated in this project. Our gratitude is also expressed to the staff and students who assisted on various stages of the project at the University of Notre Dame and the University of Rochester.


  • Behavioral regulation
  • Childhood development
  • Cortisol
  • Emotion
  • Family relations
  • Interparental conflict


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