Development and Psychopathology

Regular Articles

Poverty, household chaos, and interparental aggression predict children's ability to recognize and modulate negative emotions

C. Cybele Ravera1 c1, Clancy Blaira1, Patricia Garrett-Petersa2 and Family Life Project Key Investigatorsa1

a1 New York University

a2 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


The following prospective longitudinal study considers the ways that protracted exposure to verbal and physical aggression between parents may take a substantial toll on emotional adjustment for 1,025 children followed from 6 to 58 months of age. Exposure to chronic poverty from infancy to early childhood as well as multiple measures of household chaos were also included as predictors of children's ability to recognize and modulate negative emotions in order to disentangle the role of interparental conflict from the socioeconomic forces that sometimes accompany it. Analyses revealed that exposure to greater levels of interparental conflict, more chaos in the household, and a higher number of years in poverty can be empirically distinguished as key contributors to 58-month-olds' ability to recognize and modulate negative emotion. Implications for models of experiential canalization of emotional processes within the context of adversity are discussed.


c1 Address correspondence and reprint requests to: C. Cybele Raver, Institute of Human Development and Social Change, New York University, 196 Mercer Street, 8th floor, New York, NY 10012; E-mail:


  The Family Life Project Key Investigators include Lynne Vernon-Feagans, University of North Carolina; Mark Greenberg, Pennsylvania State University; Martha Cox, University of North Carolina; Clancy Blair, New York University; Peg Burchinal, University of North Carolina; Michael Willoughby, University of North Carolina; Patricia Garrett-Peters, University of North Carolina; Roger Mills-Koonce, University of North Carolina; and Maureen Ittig, Pennsylvania State University. Thanks to the many families and research assistants who made this study possible. Support for this research was provided by National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Grants R01 HD51502 and P01 HD39667 with cofunding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.