Sensitization in situ: Identifying interindividual differences in adolescentsʼ intraindividual responsiveness to daily interparental conflict

Carlie J. Sloan, Gregory M. Fosco, Nilam Ram

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Abstract

Objective: This study aimed to provide a novel evaluation of adolescent sensitization to interparental conflict (IPC), which is thought to be a critical factor in understanding multifinality in risk outcomes. Background: Adolescentsʼ threat and self-blame appraisals of IPC are mechanisms of risk for subsequent maladjustment. Youth who are exposed to high levels of frequent, intense, and unresolved interparental conflict are thought to become more reactive to future conflicts, a process labeled sensitization. We hypothesized that adolescents with more extensive histories of IPC would exhibit sensitization operationalized as greater intraindividual responsiveness to daily IPC. Sensitization may explain why some youth are more adversely affected by IPC than others. Method: A 21-day daily diary study was conducted with 150 adolescents (61.3% girls) in 9th and 10th grade (Mage = 14.61) who resided in two-caregiver families. Adolescents provided global and daily reports of IPC and threat and self-blame appraisals. Results: Results from multilevel models support a sensitization hypothesis for threat appraisals: Adolescents with greater histories of IPC exhibited stronger tendencies to appraise daily IPC as threatening. No support for sensitization was found for self-blaming attributions. Conclusion: Findings suggest a specific underlying process to sensitization in which accumulated exposure to IPC may lead adolescents to perceive subsequent conflicts as more threatening to them or the well-being of the family. Implications: Sensitization to IPC may involve the interaction of multiple timescales, including daily instances of conflict. Understanding historical exposure to IPC may guide interventionistsʼ efforts when working with adolescents coping with IPC.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalFamily Relations
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)

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