Journal of Child and Family Studies

, Volume 22, Issue 4, pp 502–515 | Cite as

Child-Related Interparental Conflict in Infancy Predicts Child Cognitive Functioning in a Nationally Representative Sample

Original Paper


While associations between exposure to marital conflict and child development have been documented extensively in middle childhood and adolescence, few studies have examined the developmental consequences of conflict exposure in infancy. Moreover, those that have examined marital conflict in infancy tended to focus on consequences of conflict exposure on infants’ attachment security, and various aspects of infants’ physiological and emotion regulation. Virtually nothing is known about the longitudinal links between exposure to interparental conflict in infancy and later cognitive development. Using longitudinal data on a subsample of infants (N = 6,019) and their parents who participated in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort (ECLS-B), this study examined links between the frequency of interparental conflict at 9 months and child cognitive development 15 months later. Combining data from parent interviews, birth certificates, in-home assessments of child cognitive development, and videotaped parent–child interactions, results showed significant negative associations between the frequency of child-related interparental conflict at 9 months of age and child cognitive ability at 24 months. The negative association reflects a direct effect that was not mediated by parental support or child attachment security measured at 24 months. Associations were calculated while considering children’s prior cognitive functioning (at 9 months), and a wide range of child, parent and household characteristics.


Interparental conflict Child-related conflict Infancy Cognitive development ECLS-B 


  1. Andreassen, C., & Fletcher, P. (2005). Early childhood longitudinal study, birth cohort (ECLSB), Psychometric characteristics. Volume 1 of the ECLS-B methodology report for the nine-month data collection (NCES 2005–100). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.Google Scholar
  2. Andreassen, C., & West, J. (2007). Measuring socioemotional functioning in a national birth cohort study. Infant Mental Health Journal, 28, 627–646. doi: 10.1002/imhj.20157.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Arend, R., Gove, F. L., & Sroufe, L. A. (1979). Continuity of individual adaptation from infancy to kindergarten: A predictive study of ego-resiliency and curiosity in preschoolers. Child Development, 50, 950–959. doi: 10.2307/1129319.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bayley, N. (1993). Bayley scales of infant development, second edition manual. San Antonio, TX: The Psychological Corporation.Google Scholar
  5. Belsky, J., & Rovine, M. (1990). Patterns of marital change across the transition to parenthood: Pregnancy to three years postpartum. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 52(1), 5–19. doi: 10.2307/352914.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Block, J., Block, J. H., & Morrison, A. (1981). Parental agreement-disagreement on child-rearing orientations and gender-related personality correlates. Child’s development, 52, 965–974. doi: 10.2307/1129101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bornstein, M. H., Haynes, O. M., Watson O’Reilly, A., & Painter, K. M. (1996). Solitary and collaborative pretense play in early childhood: Sources of individual variation in the development of representational competence. Child Development, 67, 2910–2929. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.1996.tb01895.x.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment. Attachment and loss, vol. 1 (2nd ed.). New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  9. Brady-Smith, C., O’Brien, C., Berlin, L., & Ware, A. (1999). 24-Month child-parent interaction rating scales for the three-bag assessment. New York: Teachers College, Columbia University.Google Scholar
  10. Buehler, C., Anthony, C., Krishnakumar, A., Stone, G., Gerard, J., & Pemberton, S. (1997). Interparental conflict and youth problem behaviors: A meta-analysis. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 6, 233–247. doi: 10.1023/A:1025006909538.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Bus, A. G., & Van Ijzendoorn, M. H. (1988). Mother-child interactions, attachment, and emergent literacy: A cross-sectional study. Child Development, 59, 1262–1272. doi: 10.2307/1130489.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cain, G. G. (1975). Regression and selection models to improve nonexperimental comparisons. In C. A. Bernett & A. A. Lumsdiane (Eds.), Evaluation and experiment (pp. 297–317). New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  13. Cassidy, J., & Shaver, P. R. (Eds.). (1999). Handbook of attachment: Theory, research, and clinical applications. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  14. Cowan, C. P., & Cowan, P. A. (1992). When partners become parents: The big life change for couples. New York, NY: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  15. Cox, M. J., Paley, B., Payne, C. C., & Burchinal, M. (1999). The transition to parenthood, marital conflict and withdrawal, and parent–infant interactions. In M. J. Cox & J. Brooks Gunn (Eds.), Conflict and cohesion in families: Causes and consequences (pp. 87–104). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  16. Crockenberg, S. (1983). Early mother and infant antecedents of bayley scale performance at 21 months. Developmental Psychology, 19, 727–730. doi: 10.1037/0012-1649.19.5.727.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Crockenberg, S. C., Leerkes, E. M., & Lekka, S. K. (2007). Pathways from martial aggression to infant emotion regulation: The development of withdrawal in infancy. Infant Behavior and Development, 30, 97–113. doi: 10.1016/j.infbeh.2006.11.009.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Cummings, E. M., & Cummings, J. L. (1988). A process-oriented approach to children’s coping with adults’ angry behavior. Developmental Review, 8, 296–321. doi: 10.1016/0273-2297(88)90008-1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Cummings, E. M., & Davies, P. T. (1994). Children and marital conflict: The impact of family dispute and a resolution. New York: Guilford press.Google Scholar
  20. Cummings, E. M., & Davies, P. T. (2002). Effects of marital conflict on children: Recent advances and emerging themes in process-oriented research. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 43, 31–63. doi: 10.1111/1469-7610.00003.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Cummings, E. M., & Davies, P. T. (2010). Marital conflict and children: An emotional security perspective. New York, NY: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  22. Cummings, E. M., Goeke-Morey, M. C., & Papp, L. M. (2004). Everyday marital conflict and child aggression. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 32, 191–202. doi: 10.1023/ Scholar
  23. Cummings, E. M., Zahn-Waxler, C., & Radke-Yarrow, M. (1981). Young children’s responses to expressions of anger and affection by others in the family. Child Development, 52, 1274–1282. doi: 10.2307/1129516.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. DeGangi, G. A., Poisson, S., Sickel, R. Z., & Wiener, A. S. (1995). Infant/toddler symptom checklist. San Antonio, TX: Therapy Skill Builders, The Psychological Corporation.Google Scholar
  25. Doss, B. D., Rhoades, G. K., Stanley, S. M., & Markman, H. J. (2009). The effect of the transition to parenthood on relationship quality: An 8-year prospective study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96(3), 601–619. doi: 10.1037/a0013969.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Doyle, A. B., & Markiewicz, D. (2005). Parenting, marital conflict and adjustment from early- to mid-adolescence: Mediated by adolescent attachment style? Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 34, 97–110. doi: 10.1007/s10964-005-3209-7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Dunn, J., & Munn, P. (1985). Becoming a family member: family conflict and the development of social understanding in the second year. Child Development, 56, 480–492. doi: 10.2307/1129735.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Du Rocher Schudlich, T. D., White, C. R., Fleischhauer, E. A., & Fitzgerald, K. A. (2011). Observed infant reactions during live interparental conflict. Journal of Marriage and Family, 73, 221–235. doi: 10.1111/j.1741-3737.2010.00800.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. El-Sheikh, M., & Arsiwalla, D. A. (2011). Children’s sleep, skin conductance level and mental health. Journal of Sleep Research, 20, 326–337. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2869.2010.00880.x.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. El-Sheikh, M., Buckhalt, J. A., Mize, J., & Acebo, C. (2006). Marital conflict and disruption of children’s sleep. Child Development, 77(1), 31–43. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2006.00854.x.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. El-Sheikh, M., & Cummings, E. M. (1992). Availability of control and preschoolers’ responses to interadult anger. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 15, 207–226. Retrieved from
  32. Erel, O., & Burman, B. (1995). Interrelatedness of marital relations and parent-child relations: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 118, 108–132. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.118.1.108.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Fantuzzo, J., Boruch, R., Beriama, A., Atkins, M., & Marcus, S. (1997). Domestic violence and children: Prevalence and risk in five major US cities. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 36, 116–122. doi: 10.1097/00004583-199701000-00025.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Feldman, R., & Greenbaum, C. W. (1997). Affect regulation and synchrony in mother-infant play as precursors to the development of symbolic competence. Infant Mental Health Journal, 18, 4–23. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1097-0355(199721)18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Field, T. (1981). Infant gaze, aversion and heart-rate during face to face interaction. Infant behavior and development, 4, 307–315. doi: 10.1016/S0163-6383(81)80032-X.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Field, T. (1995). Infant of depressed mothers. Infant Behavior & Development, 18, 1–3. doi: 10.1016/0163-6383(95)90003-9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Fish, M., & Stifter, C. A. (1993). Mother parity as a main and moderating influence on early mother-infant interaction. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 14, 557–572. doi: 10.1016/0193-3973(93)90007-I.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Fox, N. A. (1994). Dynamic cerebral process underlying emotion regulation. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 59, 152–166. doi: 10.1111/1540-5834.ep9502132769.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Frankel, K. A., & Bates, J. E. (1990). Mother-toddler problem solving: Antecedents in attachment, home behavior, and temperament. Child Development, 61, 810–819. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.1990.tb02823.x.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Frosch, C. A., Mangelsdorf, S. C., & McHale, J. L. (2000). Marital behavior and the security of preschooler-parent attachment relationships. Journal of Family Psychology, 14, 144–161. doi: 10.1037/0893-3200.14.1.144.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Ghazarian, S. R., & Buehler, C. (2010). Interparental conflict and academic achievement: An examination of mediating and moderating factors. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 39, 23–35. doi: 10.1007/s10964-008-9360-1.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Graham, A. M., Ablow, J. C., & Measelle, J. R. (2010). Interparental relationship dynamics and cardiac vagal functioning in infancy. Infant Behavior and Development, 33, 530–544. doi: 10.1016/j.infbeh.2010.07.005.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Grych, J. H., & Fincham, F. D. (1990). Marital conflict and children’s adjustment: A cognitive-contextual framework. Psychological Bulletin, 108, 267–290. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.108.2.267.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Grych, J. H., & Fincham, F. D. (1993). Children’s appraisal of marital conflict: Initial investigation of the cognitive-contextual framework. Child Development, 64, 215–239. doi: 10.2307/1131447.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Grych, J. H., & Fincham, F. D. (Eds.). (2001). Interparental conflict and child development: Theory, research and applications. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  46. Hanson, T. L. (1999). Does parental conflict explain why divorce is negatively associated with child welfare? Social Forces, 77, 1283–1315. doi: 10.2307/3005877.Google Scholar
  47. Ingoldsby, E. M., Shaw, D. S., Owens, E. B., & Winslow, E. B. (1999). A longitudinal study of interparental conflict, emotional and behavioral reactivity, and preschoolers’ adjustment problems among low-income families. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 27, 343–356. doi: 10.1023/A:1021971700656.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Isabella, R. A., & Belsky, J. (1985). Marital change during the transition to parenthood and security of infant-parent attachment. Journal of Family Issues, 6, 505–522. doi: 10.1177/019251385006004006.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Jouriles, E. N., Murphy, C. M., Farris, A. M., Smith, D. A., Richters, J. E., & Waters, E. (1991). Marital adjustment, parental disagreements about child rearing, and behavior problems in boys: Increasing the specificity of the marital assessment. Child Development, 62, 1424–1433. doi: 10.1111/1467-8624.ep9202105170.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Klinnert, M. D. (1984). The regulation of infant behavior by maternal facial expression. Infant Behavior & Development, 7, 447–465. doi: 10.1016/S0163-6383(84)80005-3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Lee, C. M., Beauregard, C., & Bax, K. A. (2005). Child-related disagreements, verbal aggression, and children’s internalizing and externalizing behavior problems. Journal of Family Psychology, 19, 237–245. doi: 10.1037/0893-3200.19.2.237.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Londerville, S., & Main, M. (1981). Security of attachment, compliance, and maternal training methods in the second year of life. Developmental Psychology, 17, 289–299. doi: 10.1037/0012-1649.17.3.289.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Love, J. M., Kisker, E. E., Ross, C., Raikes, H., Constantine, J., Boller, K., et al. (2005). The effectiveness of early head start for 3-year-old children and their parents: Lessons for policy and programs. Developmental Psychology, 41, 885–901. doi: 10.1037/0012-1649.41.6.885.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Maccoby, E. E. (1983). Let’s not over attribute to the attribution process: Comments on social cognition and behavior. In E. T. Higgins, D. N. Ruble, & W. W. Hartup (Eds.), Social cognition and social development: A sociocultural perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  55. Maccoby, E. E. (1984). Socialization and developmental change. Child Development, 55, 317–328. doi: 10.2307/1129945.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Matas, L., Arend, R. A., & Sroufe, L. A. (1978). Continuity and adaptation in the second year: The relationship between quality of attachment and later competence. Child Development, 49, 547–566.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Margolin, G., Oliver, P. H., & Medina, A. M. (2001). Conceptual issues in understanding the relation between interparental conflict and child adjustment: Integrating developmental psychopathology and risk/resilience perspectives. In J. H. Grych & F. D. Fincham (Eds.), Interparental conflict and child development (pp. 9–38). New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. McElwain, N. L., & Volling, B. L. (1999). Depressed mood and marital conflict: Relations to maternal and paternal intrusiveness with one-year-old infants. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 20(1), 63–83. doi: 10.1016/S0193-3973(99)80004-5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Moore, G. A. (2010). Parent conflict predicts infants’ vagal regulation in social interaction. Developmental Psychopathology, 22, 23–33. doi: 10.1017/S095457940999023X.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Moss, E., & St-Laurent, D. (2001). Attachment at school age and academic performance. Developmental Psychology, 37, 863–874. doi: 10.1037/0012-1649.37.6.863.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Musick, K., & Bumpass, L. (1999). How do prior experiences in the family affect transitions to adulthood? In A. Booth, A. C. Crouter, & M. J. Shanahan (Eds.), Transitions to adulthood in a changing economy: No work, no family, no future? (pp. 69–117). Westport, Connecticut: Praeger Publishers.Google Scholar
  62. Musick, K., & Meier, A. (2010). Are both parents always better than one? Parental conflict and young adult well-being. Los Angeles: California Center for Population Research.Google Scholar
  63. Nord, C., Edwards, B., Andreassen, C., Green, J. L., & Wallner-Allen, K. (2006). Early childhood longitudinal study, birth cohort (ECLS-B), user’s manual for the ECLS-B longitudinal 9-month: 2-Year datafile and electronic codebook (NCES2006-046). Washington: National Center for Education Statistics U.S. Department of Education.Google Scholar
  64. Panksepp, J. (2001). The long-term psychobiological consequences of infant emotions: Prescriptions for the twenty-first century. Neurospcyhoanalysis, 3, 149–178. doi: 10.1002/1097-0355.Google Scholar
  65. Papp, L. M., Cummings, E. M., & Goeke-Morey, M. C. (2002). Marital conflict in the home when the children are present versus absent. Developmental Psychology, 38, 774–783. doi: 10.1037/0012-1649.38.5.774.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Pauli-Pott, U., & Beckmann, D. (2007). On the association of interparental conflict with developing behavioral inhibition and behavior problems in early childhood. Journal of Family Psychology, 21, 529–532. doi: 10.1037/0893-3200.21.3.529.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Pendry, P., & Adam, E. K. (2003). April). Hush-a-bye hormones: Parent behavior, parent emotional and marital functioning, and child cortisol. Poster presentation at the Biennial Meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, Tampa, FL.Google Scholar
  68. Pendry, P., & Adam, E. K. (2007). Associations between parents’ marital functioning, maternal parenting quality, maternal emotion and child cortisol levels. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 31, 218–231. doi: 10.1177/0165025407074634.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Pollack, S. D. (2005). Early adversity and mechanisms of plasticity: integrating affective neuroscience with developmental approaches to psychopathology. Developmental Psychopathology, 17, 735–752. doi: 10.1017/S0954579405050352.Google Scholar
  70. Porter, C. L., Wouden-Miller, M., Silva, S. S., & Porter, A. E. (2003). Marital harmony and conflict: Links to infants’ emotional regulation and cardiac vagal tone. Infancy, 4, 297–307. doi: 10.1207/S15327078IN0402_09.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Radloff, L. S. (1977). The CES-D scale: A self-report depression scale for research in the general population. Applied Psychological Measurement, 1, 385–401. doi: 10.1177/014662167700100306.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Rathmann, P. (1994). Good night gorilla. New York: Putnams.Google Scholar
  73. Rosen, W. D., Adamson, L. B., & Bakeman, R. (1992). An experimental investigation of infant social referencing: Mother’s messages and gender differences. Developmental Psychology, 28, 1172–1178. doi: 10.1037/0012-1649.28.6.1172.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Rothbart, M. K., & Bates, J. E. (1998). Temperament. In W. Damon (Series Ed.) & N. Esenberg (Vol. Ed.), Handbook of child psychology: Vol 3. Social, emotional and personality development (5th ed., pp. 105–176). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  75. Schore, A. N. (2000). Attachment and the regulation of the right brain. Attachment & Human Development, 2, 23–47. doi: 10.1080/146167300361309.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Seuss, G. J., Grossmann, K. E., & Sroufe, L. A. (1992). Effects on infant attachment to mother and father on quality of adaptation to pre-school: From dyadic to individual organization of self. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 15, 43–65. doi: 10.1177/016502549201500103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Shonkoff, J. P., & Phillips, D. A. (Eds.). (2000). From neurons to neighborhoods: The science of early childhood development. Washington: National Academy Press.Google Scholar
  78. Siegel, D. J. (2001). Toward an interpersonal neurobiology of the developing mind: Attachment relationships, ‘mindsight’, and neural integration. Infant Mental Health Journal, 22, 67–94. doi: 10.1002/1097-0355(200101/04)22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Slade, A. (1987). Quality of attachment and early symbolic play. Developmental Psychology, 23, 78–85. doi: 10.1037/0012-1649.23.1.78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Snow, C. (1994). Enhancing literacy development: Programs and research perspectives. Malden: Blackwell Publishing.Google Scholar
  81. Snyder, D. K., Klein, M. A., Gdowski, C. L., Faulstich, C., & LaCombe, J. (1988). Generalized dysfunction in clinic and nonclinical families: A comparative analysis. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 16, 97–109. doi: 10.1007/BF00910504.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Sorce, J. F., Emde, R. N., Campos, J. J., & Klinnert, M. D. (1985). Maternal emotional signaling: Its effect on the visual cliff behavior of 1-year-olds. Developmental Psychology, 21, 195–200. doi: 10.1037/0012-1649.21.1.195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Sotomayor-Peterson, M., Wilhelm, M. S., & Card, N. A. (2011). Marital relationship quality and couples’ cognitive stimulation practices toward their infants: Actor and partner effects of white and hispanic parents. Early Child Development and Care, 181, 103–122. doi: 10.1080/03004430903271160.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Sumner, G., & Spietz, A. (1994). NCAST caregiver/parent-child interaction teaching manual. Seattle, WA: NCAST, University of Washington, School of Nursing.Google Scholar
  85. Walden, T. A., & Ogan, T. A. (1988). The development of social referencing. Child Development, 59, 1230–1240. doi: 10.2307/1130486.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Waters, E., & Deane, K. (1985). Defining and assessing individual differences in attachment relationships: Q-methodology and the organization of behavior in infancy and early childhood. In I. Bretherton & E. Waters (Eds.), Monographs of the society for research in child development, 50, nos. 1–2. pp. 41–65.Google Scholar
  87. Waters, E., Kondo-Ikemure, K., Posada, G., & Richters, J. (1991). Learning to love: Mechanisms and milestones. In M. Gunnar & L. Sroufe (Eds.), Self processes and development. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  88. Waters, E., Vaughn, B. E., Posada, G., & Kondo-Ikemura, K. (1995). Caregiving, cultural, and cognitive perspectives on secure-base behavior and working models: New growing points of attachment theory and research. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 60, (2–3, Serial No. 244).Google Scholar
  89. Whisman, M. A. (2001). The association between depression and marital dissatisfaction. In S. R. H. Beach (Ed.), Marital and family processes in depression: A scientific foundation for clinical practice (pp. 3–24). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Whitehurst, G. J., & Fischel, J. E. (1994). Early developmental language delay: What, if anything, should the clinician do about it? Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 35, 613–648. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7610.1994.tb01210.x.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Human DevelopmentWashington State UniversityPullmanUSA
  2. 2.Human Development and Social PolicyNorthwestern UniversityEvanstonUSA

Personalised recommendations