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Changes in marital conflict and youths' responses across childhood and adolescence: A test of sensitization

  • Marcie C. Goeke-Morey (a1), Lauren M. Papp (a2) and E. Mark Cummings (a3)


Although the sensitization hypothesis is fundamental to process-oriented explanations of the effects of marital conflict on children, few longitudinal tests of the theory's propositions have been conducted. Hierarchical linear modeling was used in this prospective, longitudinal study (n = 297 families) to assess changes in the dimensions of responding to conflict (i.e., emotional, cognitive, and behavioral) for 3 consecutive years in youths between the ages of 8 and 19 years. Moreover, to test the notion of sensitization, analyses were conducted to examine whether change in marital conflict predicted change in children's responding across middle childhood and adolescence. Supporting the sensitization hypothesis, increases in exposure to hostile marital conflict were associated with increases in children's negative emotionality, threat, self-blame, and skepticism about resolution. With a few exceptions, the effects were largely consistent for boys and girls and for younger and older children.


Corresponding author

Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Marcie C. Goeke-Morey, Department of Psychology, Catholic University of America, Washington, DC 20064; E-mail:


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Development and Psychopathology
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