According to latest research that has been conducted by researchers from Auburn University and the Catholic University of America, children who are exposed to their parent’s marital problems are likely to have impaired intellectual and mental development.
For the research the 251 children from a two-parent home were recruited. The children were from a variety of backgrounds and were interviewed at the age of eight; they were then followed up over the next three years to see the long term effects of marital conflict.
The researchers were interested in their perception of marital conflict, they were asked about the frequency, intensity and whether marital conflict resulted in a resolution or not.
The study looked at how exposure to marital conflict impacted their stress response system. In order to do this, the researchers examined the respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) in each child. The RSA is an index of activity in the parasympathetic part of the body’s stress response system and plays an important role in the management of emotions and attention.
It was reported that children who witness marital conflict proved to have less adaptive RSA reactivity by the age of nine. It was reported that this lead to a hindered mental and intellectual development compared to their peers who had not witnessed marital conflict.
Lead researcher Benjamin Hinnant reported that the findings confirm previous research that has found stress to significantly impact the body’s stress response system leading to difficulties regulating and maintaining attention and impaired cognitive development.