Argumentative Parents Can Impact Kids Brains

Posted on July 7th, 2015

Tiffs between you and your partner could have more of an impact on your children than you think.

A new study publsad-child-portraitished in the Journal of Family Psychology found that kids who often experience their parents arguing process emotions differently and are more observant of other people’s feelings than children who don’t witness their parents fighting as much.

Scientists studied a number of families and labeled participants’ home environments as either high-conflict or low-conflict based on questionnaire answers from the mothers. Researchers then looked at the brain activity of the children when they looked at photos of adults using different expressions—angry, happy and neutral.

Children classified as being from a high-conflict home showed a greater response when viewing the angry photos, compared to children from low-conflict homes. The response was based on an EEG test called P-3, which examines the brain’s ability to focus and give meaning to stimuli.

A higher P-3 amplitude was also found when children from high-conflict homes looked at happy faces, but had been asked to identify an angry couple.

“The pattern suggests children from high-conflict homes, by training their brains to be vigilant, process signs of interpersonal emotion, either anger or happiness, differently than children from low conflict homes,” said Alice Schermerhorn, study author and assistant professor in UVM’s Department of Psychological science.

Further research is needed to determine whether these cautionary responses to anger lead to problems in social relationships in the future.


Story by Caitlin St John. Caitlin St John is an Editorial Assistant for Parents.com who splits her time between New York City and her hometown on Long Island.