A group of American researchers have shown that children, who are daily affected by parental disputes, find it more difficult to analyze the emotions of others. They were also more anxious and more vigilant.
A parental dispute, even trivial, would not be without consequence on the children who have to witness it. Researchers at the University of Vermont in the United States have discovered that in these children emotional perception can be affected. The results of their study appeared in the journal Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.
The researchers worked with 99 children, aged 9 to 11 years. After a series of psychological assessments, they were separated them into two groups: those from conflict-affected homes, and those from low-conflict homes. These children then observed a series of 90 photos showing couples in angry, happy or neutral posture. They then had to identify the mood of the photo.
Children, unaccustomed to parental conflict, analyzed the photos accurately. Those from conflicting homes were able to identify happy and angry couples, but had a lot of difficulty with neutral postures. Either they were wrong or they did not know. According to the authors, two reasons can explain these results.
First, the hypervigilance of these children: they pay particular attention to signs of conflict, which could lead them to interpret neutral expressions as being angry or simply presenting greater difficulties of perception.
Second, the lack of knowledge of neutral interactions: they may be more attuned to conflicting or happy interactions, as they are a signal for them to retreat to their room or go to their parents. Neutral interactions do not offer much information, they do not learn to recognize them.
Researchers also identified the shy children through a questionnaire. They observed that shyness also interacted with children’s perceptions. Whether from conflicting homes or not, they also had great difficulty identifying couples in neutral poses. They were also more vulnerable to parental conflict. For researchers, parents of shy children need to pay more attention to how they express conflict in front of their children.