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Infant Exposure to Domestic Violence Predicts Heightened Sensitivity to Adult Verbal Conflict

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 2005
14 pages
This study examined whether 1-year-old infants whose mothers had been domestic-violence victims during the infants’ lifetime (n = 30) would be more likely than infants without such exposure (n = 59) to experience distress in response to a simulated verbal conflict, as well as whether the amount of distress expressed would be influenced by infant temperament.
As predicted, the level of exposure to domestic violence was related to an infant’s distress in response to a simulated adult verbal conflict, as indicated by the infant’s facial expression. Findings also indicated that an infant’s temperament influenced his/her response to the verbal conflict; however, this did not occur in the manner predicated by the researchers. It was expected that temperamentally reactive infants would show elevated levels of distress in response to verbal conflict only if the temperamental characteristic occurred in combination with exposure to domestic violence. Contrary to this prediction, the study found that temperamental activity level, adaptability, and negative mood predicted greater distress among infants not exposed to domestic violence. Among infants exposed to domestic violence, however, temperament did not impact distress. Simulation studies that expose infants to various examples of verbal conflict are warranted. In addition, longitudinal research is needed to determine whether infants exposed to domestic violence develop different responses to verbal conflict that is stable over time. Longitudinal research will also determine whether some infants show a delayed response to exposure to violence in infancy. Infants were videotaped during and for 5 minutes after a researcher pretended to have a telephone argument. Trained raters, blind to the abuse status of the mother, coded the tapes for displays of infant distress, as indicated by facial expression, vocalization, and posture. 3 tables and 56 responses

Date Published: January 1, 2005