Professor researches violence
Anna Boarini | Wednesday, February 15, 2012
While working in Northern Ireland over the past six years, Dr. Mark Cummings’ research team found that political violence affects the way families function, which in turn causes behavioral and mental health problems in children.
The team’s research was published on “Child Development’s” website and will run in a future issue of the journal, according to a Feb. 8 University press release.
Cummings, chair of the psychology department, said he first became interested in the conflict in Northern Ireland while he was a Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies fellow.
“I became interested in exploring the impact of political violence on families and children as a way to better understand possibility for peace process,” he said. “If you understand those pathways, then you understand more about how you might remediate problems by first understanding what the problems are at that level.”
In conducting the research, Cummings and his team worked with faculty living in Northern Ireland. The researchers from Northern Ireland conducted all the interviews, he said.
“When we started, the children were between 10 and 15,” he said. “Now we are on our sixth year studying approximately 1,000 families in Belfast.”
Mothers and children were interviewed and filled out a survey to assess the different measures of political violence they encountered, Cummings said.
“We developed measures of sectarian community violence and non-sectarian community violence,” he said. “We assessed interparental conflict, family conflict and parenting, especially parents control over children’s behavior.”
Cummings said the researchers were also examining the emotional security of their participants, as well as the children’s adjustments.
Through interviews and surveys, the research team found that political violence, specifically that of Northern Ireland’s political and religious divisions, affects family units, which in turn affects children.
“This violence increases conflict between parents, increases family conflict, and that increases insecurity that children have about their communities and their families,” he said. “And that leads directly to them having problems with depression, aggression, anxiety.”
The team has also found that social identity matters in this conflict.
“We’ve found that kids identity as Catholic or Protestant also factors in,” he said.
The identification as Catholic or Protestant can be both an indicator of youth resilience and risk, he said.
Cummings said that, while he and his team have only studied one area, their results could be generalized to a certain extent.
“We do think that every society would be different, but different levels of society effect children,” he said. “Children’s emotional security about their community, their culture and their family’s matter to their adjustment.”
Cummings said this research would also help understand youth and how political violence affects them everywhere, not just in Northern Ireland.