Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science

The Relationship between Witnessing Parental Conflict during Childhood and Later Psychological Adjustment among University Students: Disentangling Confounding Risk Factors

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science

The Relationship between Witnessing Parental Conflict during Childhood and Later Psychological Adjustment among University Students: Disentangling Confounding Risk Factors

Article excerpt

Abstract

The purpose of the current study was to examine in detail the association between witnessing domestic violence (DV) and long-term psychological adjustment. Important limitations of past research were addressed, including controlling for several associated risk factors. Special attention was paid to whether the perpetrator of the violence was the maternal or paternal figure, as well as to whether the witness to the violence was male or female. Participants completed measures examining DV witnessed, direct child abuse experienced, and current psychopathology. Following screening for physical and sexual abuse, a sample of 351 individuals was selected. Four groups of participants were compared. Results indicated that individuals who had witnessed either physical DV or major psychological DV had higher levels of psychopathology than individuals who reported witnessing minor psychological DV or controls. After controlling for direct psychological abuse experienced, witnessing DV remained a significant predictor of psychopathology for males but not for females.

Résumé

L'objectif de la présente étude consistait à examiner en profondeur les liens qui existent entre le fait d'être témoin de la violence familiale (VF) et l'adaptation psychologique à long terme. Les limites que présentent certains travaux de recherche antérieurs ont été prises en compte, notamment le contrôle de plusieurs facteurs de risque associés. Nous avons pris grand soin d'examiner le statut du responsable de la violence, à savoir s'il s'agissait de la figure maternelle ou de la figure paternelle, et le témoin de cette violence, à savoir s'il s'agissait d'un homme ou d'une femme. Les participants ont rempli des mesures visant à évaluer la VF dont ils ont été témoins, les mauvais traitements dont ils ont été victimes lorsqu'ils étaient enfants ainsi que la psychopathologie dont il souffre aujourd'hui. Après avoir procédé à une analyse préliminaire de la violence physique et sexuelle, nous avons sélectionné un échantillon de 351 personnes. Par la suite, quatre groupes ont été comparés. Les résultats indiquent que les personnes ayant été témoins de VF physique ou de VF psychologique importante présentaient un niveau plus élevé de psychopathologie que les personnes ayant rapporté avoir été témoins de VF psychologique peu importante ou les personnes appartenant au groupe témoin. Après avoir contrôlé la violence psychologique subie par les participants eux-mêmes, le fait d'être témoin de VF demeure un prédicteur significatif de la présence de psychopathologie chez les hommes, mais non chez les femmes.

Child witnesses to domestic violence (DV) were not long ago labeled as "the forgotten victims," a consequence of the fact that the effects of witnessing DV had generally been overlooked by researchers and clinicians (Elbow, 1982). Since that time, research has attempted to delineate the effects of witnessing DV on children and adolescents. A review of the literature in this area suggests that children and adolescents who are witness to violence between their parents may exhibit behavioural, relational, and psychological difficulties (Edleson, 1999). Only a handful of studies have attempted to look at the long-term effects of having witnessed DV as a child on one's psychological and social functioning during the adult years.

Several mechanisms have been put forth to explain the connection between witnessing DV and behavioural and psychological difficulties. The most commonly proposed mechanism is that of modeling or social learning theory. This theory proposes that because parents are such salient role models, children who witness DV may develop maladaptive cognitive models of interpersonal relationships (Bandura, 1973; Zimet & Jacob, 2001). Development of maladaptive models of social behavior may in turn result in the use of inappropriate strategies to solve problems and may cause difficulties in later peer and particularly romantic relationships during adolescence and adulthood. …

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