Integrating risk and resilience
Early exposure to violence can interrupt behavioral and socioemotional development, contributing to psychopathology risk across the lifespan. Fortunately, children’s early experiences also include protective environmental influences, including sensitive caregiving, which can buffer risk for psychopathology. Recent theories of differential neurobiological susceptibility (DNS) have moved away from markers of risk toward markers of sensitivity to environmental contexts, for better or for worse. Biomarkers of DNS, including respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), moderate the relation between environmental contexts and psychopathology risk. Additionally, current approaches to measuring violence typically utilize specific types of exposure or theory-driven, a priori composites, both of which may obscure the lived experiences of children who are exposed to multiple forms of violence across multiple settings. Thus, the present study employed a person-centered approach to identifying patterns of violence exposure among predominantly Black or African American preschoolers from families with low income and economic marginalization (LIEM). Latent class analysis of multi-setting violence exposure resulted in two classes representing high and low exposure to intimate partner violence (IPV) specifically. A mixture model then examined the co-contributions of baseline RSA, RSA reactivity, and sensitive parenting on internalizing and externalizing behavior across violence exposure classes. Among children with low IPV exposure, sensitive parenting buffered against internalizing and externalizing behavior, but there were no main or interaction effects with RSA. Conversely, in the high-IPV class, RSA reactivity was associated with higher externalizing behavior. Additionally, baseline RSA and maternal sensitivity exhibited an interaction effect on externalizing behavior among high-exposure children. Specifically, children with low baseline RSA exhibited greater externalizing behavior in the context of low sensitivity and lower externalizing behavior in the context of high sensitivity compared to children with high baseline RSA. The slope of this interaction term also varied across exposure classes. These results provide evidence for low baseline RSA as a marker of differential neurobiological susceptibility to violence exposure and sensitive parenting and contribute to a more holistic understanding of the impact of both stressful and supportive contexts in early childhood.