The present study examines the effects of early emotional experiences on children's regulation or strategic control of attention in the presence of interpersonal hostility. Abused children's reactions to the unfolding of a realistic interpersonal emotional situation were measured through multiple methods including autonomic nervous system changes and overt behavioral performance. Although physically abused and non-physically abused 4-year-old children did not differ in terms of their baseline levels of arousal, marked differences in physically abused children's regulatory responses to background anger emerged. These data suggest that the emergence of anger leads to increases in anticipatory monitoring of the environment among children with histories of abuse. Results are discussed in terms of risk factors in the development of psychopathology.