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Family conflict, autonomic nervous system functioning, and child adaptation: State of the science and future directions

  • Mona El-Sheikh (a1) and Stephen A. Erath (a1)


The family is one of the primary contexts of child development. Marital and parent–child conflict (family conflict) are common and predict a wide range of negative behavioral and emotional outcomes in children. Thus, an important task for developmental researchers is to identify the processes through which family conflict contributes to children's psychological maladjustment, as well as vulnerability and protective factors in the context of family conflict. In the current paper, we aim to advance a conceptual model that focuses on indices of children's autonomic nervous system (ANS) functioning that increase vulnerability or provide protection against psychological maladjustment in the context of family conflict. In doing so, we provide a selective review that reflects the state of the science linking family conflict, children's ANS activity, and child psychological adjustment, and offer directions and guidance for future research. Our hope is to accelerate research at the intersection of family conflict and ANS functioning to advance understanding of risk and resilience among children.


Corresponding author

Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Mona El-Sheikh, Department of Human Development and Family Studies, 203 Spidle Hall, Auburn University, Auburn, AL 36849; E-mail:


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Family conflict, autonomic nervous system functioning, and child adaptation: State of the science and future directions

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