Get access

Adrenocortical Underpinnings of Children’s Psychological Reactivity to Interparental Conflict


  • This research was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health (Project R01 MH57318) awarded to P.T.D. and E.M.C. and the Spunk Fund, awarded to D.C. The authors are grateful to the children, parents, teachers, and school administrators who participated in this project. Their gratitude is also expressed to project staff, including: Courtney Forbes, Courtney Henry, Marcie Goeke-Morey, Amy Keller, Michelle Sutton, Alice Schermerhorn, and the graduate and undergraduate students at the University of Rochester and University of Notre Dame.

concerning this article should be addressed to Patrick T. Davies, Department of Clinical and Social Sciences in Psychology, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY 14627. Electronic mail may be sent to


This study examined interrelationships among children’s cortisol reactivity and their psychological reactivity to interparental conflict in a sample of 208 first graders (mean age = 6.6 years). Assessments of children’s psychological reactivity to conflict distinguished among their distress, hostile, and involvement responses across multiple methods (i.e., observation, questionnaire) and informants (i.e., observer, parent). Relative to other forms of conflict reactivity, children’s distress responses to interparental conflict were consistent, unique predictors of their elevated cortisol reactivity to interparental conflict even after inclusion of demographic factors as moderators and covariates. Moderator analyses further revealed that associations between distress and elevated cortisol levels in response to interparental conflict were particularly pronounced when children exhibited high levels of involvement in conflicts.