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Keywords:

  • Marital conflict;
  • physiological reactivity;
  • child adjustment;
  • skin conductance;
  • emotional responses

Background:  Children's emotional responses and physiological reactivity to conflict were examined as mediators and moderators in the associations between exposure to parental marital conflict and child adjustment and cognitive problems.

Method:  One hundred and eighty elementary school children participated. In response to a simulated argument, children's skin conductance level reactivity (SCLR) was examined, and their emotional responses (reported and observed anger, sadness, and fear) were assessed.

Results:  A higher level of SCLR was a robust risk factor for various child outcomes, mediated boys’ internalizing difficulties in the marital conflict–child functioning link, and functioned as a vulnerability factor for girls’ externalizing, internalizing, and cognitive problems. Increased anger (for boys) and sadness (for girls) exacerbated adjustment difficulties related to marital conflict.

Conclusions:  Findings illustrate the aggregation of risk in relation to child and family characteristics.