Mental health professionals have long expressed concerns about the lifelong impact of contested divorce on children. Now there’s some scientific evidence to suggest that the unwillingness of parents of divorce to work cooperatively can have long-term physiological consequences as well.
A study conducted at Carnegie Mellon University has found a greater incidence of health vulnerabilities in adults whose parents separated or divorced and did not maintain communications during their childhoods. Researchers found children of uncommunicative parents to be three times as likely to catch a cold when intentionally exposed to a common cold virus.
In the study, more than 200 healthy adults were quarantined and exposed to a common cold virus. Researchers monitored them for five days to determine whether they developed any signs of respiratory illness. Test subjects whose parents lived separately and did not have any communication showed a heightened inflammation in response to the virus and were three times as likely to show symptoms of a cold. Researchers also found that children of divorce whose parents stayed in communication showed no meaningful change in susceptibility to health problems.
Researchers were looking to see if there were long-term health consequences for children of divorce. Sheldon Cohen, a professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon, said that the results of the study suggest that there are long effects of early exposure to family conflict. Michael Murphy, a postdoctoral research associate involved in the study, noted that the results support the assertion that early life stressful experiences can have a physiological consequence that can stay with us for decades.