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Transactional cascades of destructive interparental conflict, children's emotional insecurity, and psychological problems across childhood and adolescence

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 July 2016

Patrick T. Davies
University of Rochester
Meredith J. Martin
University of Rochester
Jesse L. Coe
University of Rochester
E. Mark Cummings
University of Notre Dame


This study examined the transactional interplay among dimensions of destructive interparental conflict (i.e., hostility and dysphoria), children's emotional insecurity, and their psychological problems from middle childhood and adolescence. Participants were 232 families, with the first of five measurement occasions occurring when children were in first grade (M age = 7 years). Cross-lagged, autoregressive models were conducted with a multiple-method, multiple-informant measurement approach to identify developmental cascades of interparental and child cascades. Results indicated that emotional insecurity was a particularly powerful mediator of prospective associations between interparental conflict (i.e., dysphoria and hostility) and child adjustment during adolescence rather than childhood. In reflecting bidirectionality in relationships between interparental and child functioning, children's psychological problems predicted increases in interparental dysphoria during childhood and adolescence. Although emotional insecurity was not identified as a proximal predictor of interparental difficulties, an indirect cascade was identified whereby insecurity in early adolescence was associated with increases in teen psychological problems, which in turn predicted greater interparental dysphoria over time. Results are interpreted in the context of how they advance transactional formulation of emotional security theory and its resulting translational implications for clinical initiatives.

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