Children and Marital Aggression

Exposure to marital psychological and physical abuse has been established as a risk factor for children's socio-emotional, behavioral, and cognitive problems.  Understanding the processes by which children develop symptoms of psychopathology and deficits in regulatory processes and cognitive functioning in the context of marital aggression is imperative for developing efficient and effective treatment programs for children and families, and has far-reaching mental health implications. 



Research Overview

This was a five-year project that focused on children's emotional and physiological reactivity and regulation as pathways in the marital aggression-child development link. Findings from this research program highlight the importance of children's regulatory process for understanding children's adjustment over time in family contexts, especially relations between marital aggression, parental hostility and child adjustment.

Age Group

  • Adolescents
  • Adults
  • Middle Childhood
  • Preschooler
  • Toddlers
  • Young Adults


  • Mark Cummings, Ph.D. (PI)
  • Mona El-Sheikh, Alumni Professor, Auburn University
  • Chrystyna Kouros, Ph.D. (Co-I)
  • Peggy Keller, Ph.D. (Co-I)


Research Impact


  • Erath, S. A., El-Sheikh, M., & Cummings, E. M. (2009). Harsh parenting and child externalizing behavior: Skin conductance level reactivity as a moderator. Child Development, 80, 578- 592. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2009.01280.x.
  • Cummings, E. M., El-Sheikh, M., Kouros, C. D., & Buckhalt, J. A. (2009). Children and violence: The role of children’s regulation in the marital aggression-child adjustment link. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 12, 3-15. doi: 10.1007/s10567-009-0042- 7
  • El-Sheikh, M., Kouros, C. D., Erath, S., Cummings, E. M., Keller, P., & Staton, L. (2009). Marital conflict and children’s externalizing behavior: Pathways involving interactions between parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system activity. Monographs of the Society for research in Child Development74(1), vii.
  • El-Sheikh, M., Cummings, E. M., Kouros, C. D., Elmore-Staton, L., & Buckhalt, J. (2008). Marital psychological and physical aggression and children's mental and physical health: Direct, mediated, and moderated effects. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology76(1), 138.

Research Themes