Threat vigilance in child witnesses of domestic violence: a pilot study utilizing the ambiguous situations paradigm

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Threat vigilance in child witnesses of domestic violence: a pilot study utilizing the ambiguous situations paradigm

Authors
Publisher
Kluwer

Abstract

Research has found that children exposed to family violence exhibit higher rates of maladjustment. We review relevant literature on family violence, marital conflict, and cognitive factors implicated in child behaviour problems. A bias toward perceiving threat in ambiguous contexts has been identified as one factor mediating both aggressive and anxious behaviour disorders. We conducted a study utilizing the ambiguous situations paradigm to assess whether children exposed to violent spousal conflict were more likely than children not exposed to violence (divided into children with an externalizing behaviour disorder and non-clinic children) to perceive threat in two classes of ambiguous situations: Peer and Inter-Parental. The results indicated that children exposed to violent spousal conflict perceived more threat in parental situations than either of the other two groups. A number of considerations were taken into account given the exploratory nature of the study, particularly sample limitations. We conclude with suggestions for improvements to the research design and the further relevance of exploring cognitive factors involved in the adjustment of children from backgrounds of violence.

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