Journal of Child & Adolescent Trauma

, Volume 9, Issue 3, pp 191–199 | Cite as

Maternal Meta-Emotion Philosophy and Cognitive Functioning in Children Exposed to Violence

  • Emily Cohodes
  • Melissa Hagan
  • Alicia Lieberman
  • Miriam Hernandez Dimmler
Original Article


Children exposed to violence tend to have lower IQs, poorer performance on explicit memory tasks, and lower verbal performance. Despite evidence that caregivers influence children’s behavioral and emotional responses to violence, little is known about caregivers’ role in mitigating the effects of violence exposure on children’s cognitive functioning. This study tested the hypothesis that maternal meta-emotion philosophy of children’s sadness and anger, assessed using Gottman’s Meta-Emotion Interview, would be associated with children’s verbal IQ. This was done in a sample of 79 dyads consisting of mothers and their preschool-aged children exposed to either community or domestic violence. Multiple regression analyses indicated that a composite of maternal awareness, acceptance, and coaching of children’s sadness, but not anger, significantly predicted children’s verbal IQ. These findings contribute to the field’s understanding of parents’ role in children’s cognitive functioning among children exposed to community and family violence.


Trauma Intimate partner violence Cognition Community violence Emotion regulation Preschool-age children Emotion socialization 



This research was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health Grant R21 MH59, 661 and by the Irving Harris Foundation. The authors wish to acknowledge Patricia Van Horn, J.D., Ph.D., Chandra Ghosh Ippen, Ph.D., and Griselda Oliver Bucio, LMFT for their contributions to study design and production of the manuscript.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

This research was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health Grant R21 MH59, 661 and by the Irving Harris Foundation.

Authors do not report any conflicts of interest.

No animals were involved in research.

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


  1. Barrett, K. C., & Campos, J. J. (1987). Perspectives on emotional development II: A functionalist approach to emotions.Google Scholar
  2. Brody, L. R. (1985). Gender differences in emotional development: a review of theories and research. Journal of Personality, 53(2), 102–149. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-6494.1985.tb00361.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Chu, A. T., & Lieberman, A. F. (2010). Clinical implications of traumatic stress from birth to age five. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 6, 469–494. doi: 10.1146/annurev.clinpsy.121208.131204.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Cole, P. M., Dennis, T. A., Smith‐Simon, K. E., & Cohen, L. H. (2009). Preschoolers’ emotion regulation strategy understanding: relations with emotion socialization and child self regulation. Social Development, 18(2), 324–352. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9507.2008.00503.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Dauvergne, M., & Johnson, H. (2001). Children witnessing family violence. Juristat, 21(6), 1–13.Google Scholar
  6. Delaney-Black, V., Covington, C., Ondersma, S. J., Nordstrom-Klee, B., Templin, T., Ager, J., & Sokol, R. J. (2002). Violence exposure, trauma, and IQ and/or reading deficits among urban children. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 156(3), 280–285. doi: 10.1001/archpedi.156.3.280.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Department of Health and Human Services. (2010). Department of Health and Human Services Guidelines, Annual update of the HHS poverty guidelines. Retrieved from
  8. Ellis, H., & Alisic, E. (2013). Maternal emotion coaching: a protective factor for traumatized children’s emotion regulation? Journal of Child and Adolescent Trauma, 6(2), 118–125. doi: 10.1080/19361521.2013.755651.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Eth, S., & Pynoos, R. (1985). Post-traumatic stress disorder in children. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association Press.Google Scholar
  10. Fantuzzo, J., Boruch, R., Beriama, A., Atkins, M., & Marcus, S. (1997). Domestic violence and children: prevalence and risk in five major U.S. cities. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 36(1), 116–122. doi: 10.1097/00004583-199701000-00025.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Farver, J. M., Natera, L. X., & Frosch, D. L. (1999). Effects of community violence on inner-city preschoolers and their families. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 20(1), 143–158. doi: 10.1016/S0193-3973(99)80008-2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Farver, J. M., Xu, Y., Eppe, S., Fernandez, A., & Schwartz, D. (2005). Community violence, family conflict, and preschoolers’ socioemotional functioning. Developmental Psychology, 41(1), 160–170. doi: 10.1037/0012-1649.41.1.160.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Gaensbauer, T. (1996). Developmental and therapeutic aspects of treating infants and toddlers who have witnessed violence. In J. D. Osofsky & E. Fenichel (Eds.), Islands of safety (pp. 15–20). Washington: Zero to Three/National Center for Clinical Infant Programs.Google Scholar
  14. Garner, P. W., & Spears, F. M. (2000). Emotion regulation in low-income preschoolers. Social Development, 9(2), 246–264.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Gottman, J., Katz, L., & Hooven, C. (1996). Parental meta-emotion philosophy and the emotional life of families: theoretical models and preliminary data. Journal of Family Psychology, 10(3), 243–268. doi: 10.1037/0893-3200.10.3.243.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Gottman, J. M., Katz, L. F., & Hooven, C. (1997). Meta-emotion: how families communicate emotionally. New York: Psychology Press.Google Scholar
  17. Graham-Bermann, S. A., Howell, K. H., Miller, L. E., Kwek, J., & Lilly, M. M. (2010). Traumatic events and maternal education as predictors of verbal ability for preschool children exposed to intimate partner violence (IPV). Journal of Family Violence, 25(4), 383–392. doi: 10.1007/s10896-009-9299-3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Hooven, C., Gottman, J., & Fainslliber, L. (1995). Parental meta-emotion structure predicts family and child outcomes. Cognition and Emotion, 9(2–3), 229–264. doi: 10.1080/02699939508409010.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hughes, H. (1988). Psychological and behavioral correlates of family violence in child witnesses and victims. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 58(1), 77–90. doi: 10.1111/j.1939-0025.1988.tb01568.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Hughes, H., & Barad, S. (1983). Psychological functioning of children in a battered women’s shelter: a preliminary investigation. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 53(3), 525–531.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Hughes, H., Parkinson, D., & Vargo, M. (1989). Witnessing spouse abuse and experiencing physical abuse: a “double whammy”? Journal of Family Violence, 4, 197–209. doi: 10.1007/BF01006629.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hurt, H., Malmud, E., Brodsky, N. L., & Giannetta, J. (2001). Exposure to violence: psychological and academic correlates in child witnesses. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 155(12), 1351–1356. doi: 10.1001/archpedi.155.12.1351.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Huth-Bocks, A., Levendosky, A., & Semel, M. (2001). The direct and indirect effects of domestic violence on young children’s intellectual functioning. Journal of Family Violence, 16(3), 269–290. doi: 10.1023/A:1011138332712.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Johnson, V., & Lieberman, A. (2007). Variations in behavior problems of preschoolers exposed to domestic violence: the role of mother’s attunement to children’s emotional experiences. Journal of Family Violence, 22(5), 297–308. doi: 10.1007/s10896-007-9083-1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Jouriles, E., Brown, A., McDonald, R., Rosenfield, D., Leahy, M., & Silver, C. (2008). Intimate partner violence and preschoolers’ explicit memory functioning. Journal of Family Psychology, 22(3), 420–428. doi: 10.1037/0893-3200.22.3.420.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Katz, L., & Windecker-Nelson, B. (2006). Domestic violence, emotion coaching, and child adjustment. Journal of Family Psychology, 20(1), 56–67. doi: 10.1037/0893-3200.20.1.56.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Keane, J. (1996). Reflections on violence. Verso.Google Scholar
  28. Koenen, K., Moffitt, T., Caspi, A., Taylor, A., & Purcell, S. (2003). Domestic violence is associated with environmental suppression of IQ in young children. Development and Psychopathology, 15, 297–311. doi: 10.1017/S0954579403000166.
  29. Levendosky, A., Huth-Bocks, A., Shapiro, D., & Semel, M. (2003). The impact of domestic violence on the maternal- child relationship and preschool-age children’s functioning. Journal of Family Psychology, 17(13), 275–287. doi: 10.1037/0893-3200.17.3.275.
  30. Lewis, M., & Michalson, L. (1983). The socialization of emotion. In Children’s emotions and moods (pp. 157–191). Springer US.Google Scholar
  31. Lieberman, A., Van Horn, P., & Ozer, E. (2005). Preschooler witnesses of marital violence: predictors and mediators of child behavior problems. Development and Psychopathology, 17(2), 385–396. doi: 10.1017/S0954579405050182.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Lieberman, A. F., Ippen, C. G., & Van Horn, P. (2006). Child–parent psychotherapy: 6-month follow-up of a randomized controlled trial. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 45(8), 913–918. doi: 10.1097/01.chi.0000222784.03735.92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Linares, L. O., Heeren, T., Bronfman, E., Zuckerman, B., Augustyn, M., & Tronick, E. (2001). A mediational model for the impact of exposure to community violence on early child behavior problems. Child Development, 72, 639–652. doi: 10.1111/1467-8624.00302.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. Marans, S., & Adelman, A. (1997). Experiencing violence in a developmental context. Children in a Violent Society, 14, 202–222.Google Scholar
  35. Margolin, G. (1998). Effects of domestic violence on children. In P. K. Trickett & C. J. Schellenbach (Eds.), Violence against children in the family and the community (pp. 57–101). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. doi: 10.1037/10292-003.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Margolin, G., & Gordis, E. (2000). The effects of family and community violence on children. Annual Review of Psychology, 51, 445–479. doi: 10.1146/annurev.psych.51.1.445.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. McDonald, R., Jouriles, E., Briggs-Cowan, M., Rosenfeld, D., & Carter, A. (2007). Violence toward a family member, angry adult conflict, and child adjustment difficulties: relations in families with 1- to 3-year-old children. Journal of Family Psychology, 21, 176–184. doi: 10.1037/0893-3200.21.2.176.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. Moore, T., & Pepler, D. (1998). Correlates of adjustment in children at risk. In E. W. Holden, R. Geffner, & E. N. Jouriles (Eds.), Children exposed to marital violence: Theory, research, and applied issues (pp. 157–184). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Osofsky, J. (1995). The effects of exposure to violence on young children. American Psychologist, 50, 782–788. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.50.9.782.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Ostrowski, S. A., Christopher, N. C., & Delahanty, D. L. (2007). The impact of maternal posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms and child gender on risk for persistent posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms in child trauma victims. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 32, 338–342. doi: 10.1093/jpepsy/jsl003.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  41. Perez, C., & Widom, C. (1994). Childhood victimization and long-term intellectual and academic outcomes. Child Abuse & Neglect, 18(8), 617–633. doi: 10.1016/0145-2134(94)90012-4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Perkins, S., & Graham-Bermann, S. (2012). Violence exposure and the development of school related functioning: mental health, neurocognition, and learning. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 17(1), 89–98. doi: 10.1016/j.avb.2011.10.001.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  43. Pynoos, R. (1993). Traumatic stress and developmental psychopathology in children and adolescents. In J. M. Oldham, M. B. Riba, & A. Tasman (Eds.), American psychiatric press review of psychiatry (pp. 205–238). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press, Inc.Google Scholar
  44. Pynoos, R., Steinberg, A., & Wraith, R. (1995). A developmental model of childhood traumatic stress. In D. Cicchetti & D. J. Cohen (Eds.), Manual of developmental psychopathology (pp. 72–95). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  45. Ratner, H. H., Chiodo, L., Covington, C., Sokol, R. J., Ager, J., & Delaney-Black, V. (2006). Violence exposure, IQ, academic performance, and children’s perception of safety: evidence of protective effects. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 52(2), 264–287. doi: 10.1353/mpq.2006.0017.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Roberts, W., & Strayer, J. (1996). Empathy, emotional expressiveness, and prosocial behavior. Child Development, 67(2), 449–470. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.1996.tb01745.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Saarni, C. (1979). Children’s understanding of display rules for expressive behavior. Developmental Psychology, 15(4), 424. doi: 10.1037/00121649.15.4.424.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Saarni, C. (1997). Coping with aversive feelings. Motivation and Emotion, 21(1), 45–63. doi: 10.1023/A:1024474314409.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Saltzman, W. R., Pynoos, R. S., Layne, C. M., Steinberg, A. M., & Aisenberg, E. (2001). Trauma-and grief-focused intervention for adolescents exposed to community violence: results of a school-based screening and group treatment protocol. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, 5(4), 291.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Saltzman, K., Weems, C., & Carrion, V. (2006). IQ and posttraumatic stress symptoms in children exposed to interpersonal violence. Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 36(3), 261–271. doi: 10.1007/s10578-005-0002-5.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  51. Skopp, N., McDonald, R., Jouriles, E., & Rosenfeld, D. (2007). Partner aggression and children’s externalizing problems: maternal and partner warmth as protective factors. Journal of Family Psychology, 21(3), 459–467. doi: 10.1037/0893-3200.21.3.459.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  52. Sturge-Apple, M., Davies, P. T., Cicchetti, D., & Manning, L. (2012). Interparental violence, maternal emotional unavailability and children’s cortisol functioning in family contexts. Developmental Psychopathology, 48(1), 237–249. doi: 10.1037/a0025419.Google Scholar
  53. Wallach, L. B. (1993). Helping children cope with violence. Young Children, 48(4), 4–11.Google Scholar
  54. Wechsler, D. M. (1990). WPPSI-III: Wechsler preschool and primary scale of intelligence revised. San Antonio: The Psychological Corporation/Harcourt Assessment.Google Scholar
  55. Yates, T., Dodds, M., Sroufe, L., & Egeland, B. (2003). Exposure to partner violence and child behavior problems: a prospective study controlling for child physical abuse and neglect, child cognitive ability, socioeconomic status, and life stress. Developmental Psychopathology, 15(1), 199–218. doi: 10.1017/S0954579403000117.
  56. YBarra, G., Wilkens, S., & Lieberman, A. (2007). The influence of domestic violence on preschooler behavior and functioning. Journal of Family Violence, 22, 33–42. doi: 10.1007/s10896-006-9054-y.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Child Trauma Research Program, Department of PsychiatryUniversity of California, San FranciscoSan FranciscoUSA

Personalised recommendations