For years now, psychologists have been telling couples who yell at one another to stop for the sake of the kids. Such conflict in the home — even when no violence is involved — is associated with a host of negative behavioral and life outcomes for children.
Some strands of research have gone so far as to suggest that dissolving a marriage might be better for kids than exposing them to high levels of conflict within a bad marriage.
Still, the effects of parental conflict do not appear to be experienced equally by all children. Some kids do badly when exposed to conflict; others seem to cope much better. Recently, researchers at the University of Oregon decided to try to get a handle on this variability: Is it possible, they asked, that experiences early in life might sculpt the brain in ways that shape the child’s response to conflict later in life?
Psychologists Alice Graham, Philip Fisher and Jennifer Pfeifer decided to take a look at what happens inside the brains of infants when they hear conflict and angry voices. The approach was straightforward: Use a noninvasive brain-scanning technique known as fMRI to scan the brains of infants and identify, in real time, which areas of the brain are activated by angry voices.
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