Negative interparental conflict is a consistent predictor of children’s functioning. In the current study, we examined conflict stimuli and children’s cognitive appraisals of their parents’ conflicts as predictors of children’s evaluations of simulated conflict.
A sample of 96 children aged 9–11 years (50 males) viewed brief videotaped depictions of a male and a female actor posing as a married couple enacting conflict scenarios. Children evaluated each actor’s behavior in each video on a continuum from good to bad. Trained coders coded the actors’ positivity and negativity in each video. Children’s cognitive appraisals of their own parents’ conflicts were assessed via questionnaire (e.g., self-blame appraisals). The positivity and negativity codes and children’s cognitive appraisals were tested as predictors of children’s evaluations, and cognitive appraisals were tested as moderators of associations between the codes and children’s evaluations.
Codes reflecting greater negativity of either actor predicted worse child evaluations of both actors’ behavior (evaluations as more “bad”). Codes reflecting greater positivity of the actors generally predicted better evaluations of the actors’ behavior (evaluations of behavior as more “good”). Children’s cognitive appraisals moderated some of these associations. For example, low levels of the mother actor’s positivity (a lack of positivity) predicted worse child evaluations of the father actor for children who blamed themselves more for their parents’ conflict than for other children.
Results are discussed in terms of advancing knowledge of children’s cognitions regarding interparental conflict, and ultimately the implications of the results for children’s development and psychological adjustment.