A new study has shown that children who get upset while watching their parents fight are more likely to develop psychological problems.
Researchers also found that these children who witness their parents arguing have higher levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.
Researchers at the University of Rochester, the University of Minnesota, and the University of Notre Dame studied 208 white 6-year olds along with their mothers. They wanted to see whether the children also had changes in the level of cortisol while listening to simulated telephone arguments between their parents.
The children’s distress, hostility and level of involvement were studied along with reports received from the mothers about their child’s reaction while parents fought at home. Researchers took saliva samples before and after the conflicts in order to test the cortisol levels.
The study found that distressed children had very high levels of cortisol with regards to their parents fighting. The levels of hostility in the children and their involvement during the arguments were not always related to their high levels of cortisol. However, the children who were very distressed and very involved in their parents arguments tended to have very high levels of cortisol.
“Our results indicate that children who are distressed by conflict between their parents show greater biological sensitivity to conflict in the form of higher levels of the stress hormone, cortisol,” according to Patrick T. Davies, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, who led the study. “Because higher levels of cortisol have been linked to a wide range of mental and physical health difficulties, high levels of cortisol may help explain why children who experience high levels of distress when their parents argue are more likely to experience later health problems.”