Children exposed to high levels of interparental conflict are at disproportionately high risk for experiencing a wide array of psychological problems, including internalizing symptoms, externalizing problems, social impairments, and academic difficulties. Consequently, the burden experienced by children from high conflict homes and the resulting psychological, health, and economic costs to U.S. society are extensive. Children's emotional responses to conflict are regarded as pivotal mechanisms in understanding the risk associated with exposure to interparental discord and conflict. Thus, in accordance with the Funding Opportunity Announcement """"""""PA-07-083 """"""""Basic and Translational Research in Emotion"""""""", this study proposes to test a pattern-based reformulation of EST that is rooted in an ethological and evolutionary framework (EST-R;Davies &Sturge-Apple, 2007;Davies &Woitach, 2008). Toward the overarching objective of examining the utility of the novel EST-R framework, this application seeks to address the following specific aims: (1) Identify the nature of the interrelationships among the five profiles, the patterns of subjective reactivity to conflict underlying each profile, and stability and change in the profiles over time;(2) Identify the interparental, family, and child characteristics that serve as correlates and precursors in distinguishing between the different reactivity profiles;(3) Distinguish the common and distinctive neurobiological and neurocognitive underpinnings of children's behavioral profiles of reactivity to conflict;(4) Delineate the mental and physical health trajectories of the EST- R profiles, including testing the incremental power of the specific profiles to predict specific trajectories of children's adjustment after taking into account prevailing measurement approaches;and (5) Contribute to intervention initiatives aimed at addressing children's coping and adaptation to interparental conflict by delineating possible points of intervention associated with particular patterns of children's responding. To accomplish these aims, the project will follow a sample of 250 mothers, fathers, and their four year-old children over three annual measurement occasions. The multi-method, multi-informant, and multi-level measurement battery combined with powerful, sophisticated latent and pattern-based quantitative approaches will generate authoritative tests of the novel, theoretically guided research questions and hypotheses. Consequently, the study has the potential to significantly advance knowledge on family and developmental processes underlying children's trajectories of health and inform prevention and intervention initiatives to alleviate the impact of risky family environments on the development of trauma related psychopathology towards reducing the burden of mental illness in children.

Public Health Relevance

In light of the prevalence of discord between parents and its profound costs to children and society, understanding how children adapt to interparental difficulties is an important public health priority. Accordingly, the overarching objective of this project is to (a) distinguish between different patterns of children's responses to their parents'conflicts, (b) identify the characteristics in the family that are associated with children's responses to conflict, and (c) chart the implications of these responses to conflict for children's mental and physical health. By addressing these questions, this application will help provide knowledge necessary to inform clinical and policy initiatives designed to improve the welfare of children and families.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Research Project (R01)
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Study Section
Psychosocial Development, Risk and Prevention Study Section (PDRP)
Program Officer
Maholmes, Valerie
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University of Rochester
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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Coe, Jesse L; Davies, Patrick T; Sturge-Apple, Melissa L (2018) Family cohesion and enmeshment moderate associations between maternal relationship instability and children's externalizing problems. J Fam Psychol 32:289-298
Davies, Patrick T; Coe, Jesse L; Hentges, Rochelle F et al. (2018) The Interplay Among Children's Negative Family Representations, Visual Processing of Negative Emotions, and Externalizing Symptoms. Child Dev 89:663-680
Coe, Jesse L; Davies, Patrick T; Sturge-Apple, Melissa L (2018) Family Instability and Young Children's School Adjustment: Callousness and Negative Internal Representations as Mediators. Child Dev 89:1193-1208
Davies, Patrick T; Coe, Jesse L; Hentges, Rochelle F et al. (2018) Interparental hostility and children's externalizing symptoms: Attention to anger as a mediator. Dev Psychol 54:1290-1303
Coe, Jesse L; Davies, Patrick T; Sturge-Apple, Melissa L (2017) The Multivariate Roles of Family Instability and Interparental Conflict in Predicting Children's Representations of Insecurity in the Family System and Early School Adjustment Problems. J Abnorm Child Psychol 45:211-224
Davies, Patrick T; Hentges, Rochelle F; Sturge-Apple, Melissa L (2016) Identifying the temperamental roots of children's patterns of security in the interparental relationship. Dev Psychopathol 28:355-70
Davies, Patrick T; Martin, Meredith J; Sturge-Apple, Melissa L et al. (2016) The distinctive sequelae of children's coping with interparental conflict: Testing the reformulated emotional security theory. Dev Psychol 52:1646-1665
Davies, Patrick T; Hentges, Rochelle F; Coe, Jesse L et al. (2016) The multiple faces of interparental conflict: Implications for cascades of children's insecurity and externalizing problems. J Abnorm Psychol 125:664-78
Davies, Patrick T; Coe, Jesse L; Martin, Meredith J et al. (2015) The developmental costs and benefits of children's involvement in interparental conflict. Dev Psychol 51:1026-1047
Davies, Patrick T; Martin, Meredith J (2013) The reformulation of emotional security theory: the role of children's social defense in developmental psychopathology. Dev Psychopathol 25:1435-54