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Children's Responses to Angry Adult Behavior as a Function of Marital Distress and History of Interparent Hostility

Jennifer S. Cummings, David S. Pellegrini, Clifford I. Notarius and E. Mark Cummings
Child Development
Vol. 60, No. 5 (Oct., 1989), pp. 1035-1043
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the Society for Research in Child Development
DOI: 10.2307/1130777
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1130777
Page Count: 9
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Children's Responses to Angry Adult Behavior as a Function of Marital Distress and History of Interparent Hostility
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Abstract

Responses of 2-5-year-old children to angry adult behavior were examined as a function of parental report of marital distress, history of interparent verbal hostility, and history of interparent physical hostility. A trained actor engaged the child's mother in an emotionally expressive verbal exchange while the child played in the same room. The exchange was standardized and consisted of a 7-episode sequence of shifting background conditions (no emotion, friendly, no emotion, angry, no emotion, reconciliation, no emotion). Preoccupation with anger, expressed concern and support-seeking, and accepting of social responsibility (e. g., providing physical or verbal comfort to the mother) were greater in response to background anger than in response to prosocial conditions. The parents' marital adjustment was positively associated with expressed concern and support-seeking by children in response to anger. Form and degree of marital conflict interacted with age and sex in predicting children's response to anger as well. In particular, children whose parents engaged in physical aggressiveness showed increased preoccupation, concern and support-seeking, and social responsibility responses with increasing age. Implications of these findings for the study of the effects of marital discord on children are discussed.

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