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The High Cost of Domestic Violence

A recent study in the journal Child Development (September 14, 2005) reports that even the mildest hints of anger or hostility in their environment significantly raises the stress level of physically abused children for a prolonged period of time, even if the conflict has nothing to do with them.

The investigators of this study suggest that this heightened response system in physically abused children may explain why many of them are so often distracted at school.

This study measured biological markers for stress in 11 abused four and five-year olds who played in one room when a sudden, loud argument arose in an adjacent room. The argument was staged by two actors.

Although abused and non-abused children both showed signs of emotional arousal in response to the heated argument, the physically abused chidlren "could not completely break their attention away from the argument next-door, even when it ended peacefully."

"What's really interesting about this experiment is that the abused children were taking their attention resources and redeploying them into something that had nothing to do with the children at all," says Pollak. "That provides an important clue about why these children are having interpersonal problems."

It's no secret that children who are physically and emotionally abused can suffer serious consequences for the rest of their lives. Many psychologists believe that a child's basic personality is set by 3 to 6 years of age. While physical and emotional abuse at any age can leave lasting and serious scars, the effects are usually most tragic with younger children whose basic dispositions are being shaped by every moment and encounter of their young lives.

There are many good resources and organizations that are working at reducing domestic violence. One of them is The Joe Torre Safe At Home Foundation. More information on Joe Torre can also be found at

If you know any children who you suspect are being physically or emotionally abused, please remember that they may not have anyone to protect them but you. Contact an organization that deals with domestic abuse immediately.


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