Children's functioning in the context of stressors is a matter of considerable public health significance. This project will improve identification of children at risk for poor outcomes when exposed to the stressor of interparental conflict. It will examine interrelations between the stressor of interparental conflict and children's temperament traits as predictors of children's emotional, behavioral, and physical health outcomes. The project will also examine mechanisms underlying associations between interparental conflict and outcomes-namely, children's neuropsychological processing, adrenocortical, emotional, and cognitive reactions to interparental conflict, and sleep problems. The project will also examine transactional processes involving the influence of children's behavior during parental conflict on parents'later conflict and on child outcomes. Methods include the use of electroencephalography (EEG) and Event-Related Potentials (ERP) techniques to examine neural processing of conflict stimuli, assaying of saliva samples for cortisol levels, observation of an interparental Problem Discussion in the child's presence, and questionnaires. Participants in the main study will be 100 nine- to eleven-year-old children and their parents. Data will also be collected from two smaller scale projects to facilitate the development of the main study. The proposal also includes secondary data analysis of data from a sample of 585 children and their parents. This data will facilitate addressing questions about interrelations between temperament, change in parental conflict, and change in child outcomes, including examination over an extended period of development. The career development plan includes intensive training in several areas, including children's temperament with Dr. John E. Bates (Indiana University). In addition, Dr. Douglas Granger (Pennsylvania State University) will provide training in adrenocortical functioning. Dr. Dennis Molfese (University of Louisville) will provide technical training in EEG and ERPs techniques in children, and Dr. Seth Pollak (University of Wisconsin- Madison) will provide training in research design and in the content area of brain activation and child functioning in the context of stressors. Dr. William Hetrick (Indiana University) will provide additional EEG/ERPs consultation, and Dr. Amy Holtzworth-Munroe (Indiana University) will provide training regarding marital relationship functioning.

Public Health Relevance

The proposed work addresses public health issues by a) improving identification of children at greater risk of emotional, behavioral, and physical health problems when exposed to interparental conflict, b) examining biological and psychological mechanisms underlying risk for these problems in the context of interparental conflict, and c) examining transactional processes, including children's influence on parents'conflict and the implications of children's behavioral responses to parents'conflict for child outcomes.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Research Transition Award (R00)
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Study Section
Special Emphasis Panel (NSS)
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Maholmes, Valerie
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University of Vermont & St Agric College
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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Schermerhorn, Alice C (2018) Children's appraisals of interparental conflict predict event-related potential components. Dev Neuropsychol 43:235-255
Schermerhorn, Alice C; Bates, John E; Puce, Aina et al. (2017) Socio-emotionally significant experience and children's processing of irrelevant auditory stimuli. Int J Psychophysiol 112:52-63
Schermerhorn, Alice C; Bates, John E; Puce, Aina et al. (2015) Neurophysiological Correlates of Children’s Processing of Interparental Conflict Cues. J Fam Psychol 29:518-27
Schermerhorn, Alice C; Bates, John E; Goodnight, Jackson A et al. (2013) Temperament moderates associations between exposure to stress and children's externalizing problems. Child Dev 84:1579-93
Schermerhorn, Alice C; D'Onofrio, Brian M; Slutske, Wendy S et al. (2012) Offspring ADHD as a risk factor for parental marital problems: controls for genetic and environmental confounds. Twin Res Hum Genet 15:700-13