Advanced Research Methods In Psychology
1PSY501: Advanced Research Methods in Psychology
Evaluating the experience of parenting style and attachment as an influence on adult life
Name: Stefanie Oliveira Antunes
Registration number: 149785401
Degree: BSc Psychology, Full-Time, Year 2
Module: 1PSY501 – Advanced Research Methods in Psychology Abstract
From the moment humans are born, they need to rely on others to survive. However, the influence of parenting goes far beyond that: previous research suggests that children turn out to be adults whose personality is shaped by their parenting style and attachment in young age. To research in-depth how this influence is experienced and perceived personally, 4 young adults answered 6 protocol questions in a semi-structured interview lasting on average 15 minutes. Four main themes emerged from a grounded theory coding procedure: perceiving authority as a necessity to learn, progressing to independence, forming own goals and personality and finally seeing the parent as a friend rather than just a caregiver. These findings are discussed in light of previous research, the study’s limitations and its potential uses as guideline for future research on the influences on adulthood personality. Introduction
From the moment a human being is born, they rely on another person to survive, develop and succeed as a race, which cannot be achieved individually (Bornstein, 2001). A “parent”, biological or other, has a basic function of constantly promoting physical, emotional, social and financial support that begins at birth, but lasts far into adulthood (Davies, 2000). Despite Harris and Baron-Cohen’s (1998) controversial assumption that parents have little influence on their child’s development, the majority of Developmental Psychology assumes that from very early on, the sort of relationship that is maintained with the caregiver plays a major role in the development of personality, emotional identification and psychological growth in the future (Kagan, 1999). This parent-child-relationship is best explained from two different perspectives: parenting style and attachment.
Firstly, the child-rearing strategies used throughout their off-spring’s life is known as the construct of “parenting style”, first named by Baumrind (1967), and can vary depending on culture, socioeconomic status, family size or religion. Baumrind identified three types of parenting style by separating them in terms of demands and responsiveness: authoritarian, authoritative and permissive. While authoritative parenting makes high demands of the child, for example in academia or social norms, while providing support for its demands, authoritarian and permissive parenting either provide too high demands or responsiveness. Depending on parenting style, children can be punished with or without justification, another factor that influence children’s ability to comply to authority and accept rules (Baumrind, 1991). Research following Baumrind’s original findings now assumes that authoritative parenting is more likely to produce the happiest, most self-reliant and confident children, while authoritarian parenting leads to obedience, but low self-esteem and permissive parenting is often followed by children who find it difficult to self-regulate and obey authority (Maccoby, 1992).
Secondly, another part that makes up the parental relationship a child has to its caregiver is the nature of the emotional bond that connects them, attachment. Major research into attachment theory was conducted by Bowlby (1958), who observed that infants experienced high distress when separated from their mothers, even if others were around to feed them, a phenomenon that Ainsworth and Bell (1970) named separation anxiety later. Attachment is therefore formed when a person provides high responsiveness to the child’s needs and become the “secure base” through which children can explore the world safely, making attachment an evolutionary necessity (Bowlby, 1969). While parental attachment forms at a young age, it sets the boundaries for attachment in future relationships: Hazan and Shaver (1987) observed that adult attachment in romantic relationships shared similarities with childhood attachment as adults feel comforted in presence of their partner and anxious in their absence.
To conclude, human beings are dependent upon another person when they are born and are bound to be influenced by what they are taught. However, while there is a large quantity of quantitative research into the effects of parenting on later-life development, only few qualitative studies in this domain actually focus on the personal experience of being exposed to different kinds of parenting and its consequences. This study therefore aims to answer the question: how do individuals experience being parented throughout life and how does it impact who they turn out to be as adults?
Qualitative research methods were used for this study and participants were directly asked about their experiences with parenting and attachment and its influence on their adult life using a semi-structured interview protocol. Data (see Appendix 1) were analysed using grounded theory,
A convenience sample of 4 young adults, 2 males and 2 females, ranging in age from 18 to 27 (mean: 21.5, SD+ 4.04), was recruited using opportunity sampling from a pool of available acquaintances of the researchers. Participants differed in socioeconomic and cultural background and in experience with qualitative data collection. They participated voluntarily and without enticements.
A semi-structured interview protocol consisting of 6 questions (see Appendix 2) was used for data collection, but researchers were free to expand on them. Questions 1 and 2 focused on the personal perception of the participant’s parenting style and attachment at a younger age. Question 3 enquired about the adaptability and consistency of parenting throughout life. Question 4 asked participants to compare the parenting they experienced to what they perceived to be their friends’ or siblings’ experience. The last two questions focused on the influence of parenting and attachment on the personality nowadays and on relationships with others. The interview was recorded using a voice recording application on a mobile device (phone or tablet).
After being approached by the researcher, participants were given a consent form to sign (see Appendix 3) outlining the issue being studied and their participation rights. The researcher started the voice recording and conducted the interview by following the semi-structured protocol with further explanations where necessary. After completion of the approximately 15-minute long interview, participants were thanked and debriefed about the aims of the study. Upon completion of the interviews and their transcription, data were analysed by proceeding to an in-depth analysis of each segment or line, which lead to obtaining recurring focussed codes that could be summarised in four main categories describing the parenting experience (see Appendix 4).
Considering that the participants were sharing private and personal experiences of their lives, maintaining confidentiality and anonymity was a priority. Participants were assured that all data would only be available for analysis in anonymised form. All BPS ethical guidelines were followed rigorously. Informed consent was obtained and an external seminar leader gave ethical approval (see Appendix 5) prior to the conduction of the study.
RESULTS & DISCUSSION
The main research aim of this study was to examine in-depth the experience of parenting received throughout life and the reflection on how it influenced personality development in later adult-life. Four main themes emerged across the interviews: defining strict authority as a necessity, progressing to independence, developing individual goals and personality and seeing the parent as friend.
1) Defining strict authority as a necessity
Participants reported that, in general, at least one of their caregivers tended to be firm in their parenting and were perceived as an authority figure that could be trusted to be right.
P1, l. 11-12: When you’re younger, you think everything your parents say is true, so I did believe that.
P3, l. 55-57: I always have to listen to him no matter what he says, like whatever he says, it goes.
They defined strictness as being compelled to obey rules set by the authority figure. Failing to obey these rules led to consequences, mainly discipline by punishment.
P1, l. 6-10: It’s a bit strict, I’m supposed to do things a certain way and if I don’t, then I’m reprimanded quite seriously. (…) I might have been hit a couple of times when I didn’t listen to them.
However, they also perceived this strict rigorousness as necessity to learn about fitting the norm by being taught society’s morals and values.
P1, l.108-110: (…) like younger kids really need to be treated like they are young and get told what’s right and wrong.
Fitting in with Baumrind’s (1967) classification of parenting styles, these participants’ parental figures pose high demands in form of rules to be obeyed. Furthermore, participants also associate parenting by being disciplined in case of disobedience, especially at a young age, with learning about society’s morals and values. This again fits in with Baumrind’s (1991) findings that as long as punishment is perceived as being fair and necessary, children are prone to comply to it. More recent research suggests that adolescents distinguish between domains in their lives where they perceive their parents as having legitimate authority to exercise control over them and others where they don’t (Padilla-Walker, 2008). When it comes to the moral domain, most individuals feel that the parental authority is legitimately needed and thus comply to their norms (Smetana, 2006).
2) Progressing to independence
Furthermore, participants also reported that, growing up, they separated from their caregiver and became more self-reliant.
P2, l. 63-64: I’m more independent so not as attached to my mum like I was when I was younger.
As part of their development, participants also noted an increase in leniency throughout age, linking parental strictness to maturity.
P1, l. 52-54: So, I guess, like the parenting style got stricter in my teenage phase, but afterwards I think it kind of reduced or decreased.
Finally, participants describe their progress to independence as a time of being trusted to think independently, to rely on themselves and as being treated like an adult.
P2, l. 54-57: As you are getting older (…) you are more independent and I didn’t really need my mum to tend to my needs when I could just tend to my needs myself.
P3, l. 70-77: now they’re giving me more freedom since I’m older now, they want me to do things on my own cos they know one day they’re not going to be there and so from then, I have to be independent and do my own things without them having to tell me what to do all the time, it’s going to be up to me to make these choices, to do what is best for me and to just live life without being dependent.
Humans are dependent upon another being to survive in early life (Bornstein, 2001), but this changes over the lifetime. As children reach adolescence, they often push for more autonomy in decision-making, a wish that is often granted by parents (Collins, Gleason & Sesma, 1997). However, progressing to independence can often lead to conflicts with accepting authority, especially when adolescents are pushing for freedom in domains where caregivers are not ready to give up their right to execute discipline (Padilla-Walker, 2008). Parents who manage to balance granting autonomy and providing support raise more adjusted adults who integrate into society more easily, perform better academically and display better overall well-being (Padilla-Walker, Nelson & Knapp, 2013).
3) Developing individual goals and personality
Additionally, partakers also described a development towards individual goals, such as choosing their own priorities and aiming to achieve the best.
P3, l. 191-195: it made me like be a more caring person towards myself and made me more aware of things I do and how I behave and I think they really helped me realise what is important in life and what isn’t.
They also reported a change in personality over time, especially the development in confidence, responsibility and open-mindedness, but also in trusting own abilities.
P1, l. 120-124: if it wasn’t for my mum’s affection or confidence in me, maybe I would’ve had lower self-esteem than I have right now. Yeah, I feel like, I guess, the confidence that my mum really puts in me, like she believes in me and believes that I can do things even when I don’t.
Parental strictness is perceived as an advantage in the participants’ lives and as an inspiration for the future.
P2, l. 82-83: I will treat my future kids the same way, having a good relationship.
P4, l. 85-88: I have gone to university, I am fairly experienced at life but nothing has influenced my development and personality as much as my parents have. I am forever grateful for their overprotectiveness and love.
Parenting shapes a child’s behaviour, which in turn makes up its personality traits, and this effect can be an influence far into adulthood (Blondin, Cochran et al., 2011). This is best observable in the link between parenting and the political views held as an adult, which display individual’s attitudes and opinions: Block and Block (2006) found that children raised with authoritative parents are more likely to adopt a liberal perspective to politics. Furthermore, the progression to developing individual goals and priorities in life is connected to what goals were emphasized on by parents during childhood: if parents pushed their children to perform well in academics, it is more likely that these children, as adults, perceive education as a main priority in their lives (Padilla-Walker et al., 2013).
4) The caregiver as friend
Another recurrent finding was the description of the caregiver as a friend with whom a close relationship can be maintained despite the necessary strictness.
P2, l. 19-23: even though they were like strict I was very close to my mum growing up… I still am actually. To be honest I was a nuisance child anyway when I was little but that didn’t change the fact that my mum and I have a very close relationship.
P4, l. 68-73: Outsiders would comment and say “your mum likes you” it is because as I grew up I started to genuinely enjoy the company of my mother and father, and I wasn’t in their company for the sake of them being my parents, I felt as though they are not just my parents they are also my friends.
Participants reported that they trusted their caregiver to the point of disclosing secrets and seeking advice, help and protection in case of necessity.
P3, l. 38-44: But with my mum, I’m so close to her, like she’s my best friend, like I tell her everything like she’s always the first person that I go to when I need advice on anything or when something is troubling me or when I need anything, any sort of help, I’m always going to my mum first. We’d have our girl to girl moments, I always open up to her and I don’t like keeping any secrets from her.
This friend prevents bad decisions while wanting the best and pushes them to achieve their best by motivating them.
P1, l. 90-91: She doesn’t force me too much, she tries and like motivates me and gives me pep talks to get like work done.
The parent as a friend treats the individual like an equal.
P3, l. 92-94: cos now I’m like an adult and like you know they have to treat me like I am one of them not like I’m still their little baby.
Forming a friendship with a caregiver is only a possibility if the parent-child-relationship can survive the necessary conflict that is associated with the push for more autonomy in puberty (Padilla-Walker et al., 2013). Research by Hazan and Shaver (1987) showed that attachment formed in childhood can impact attachment in inter-personal adult relationships. When caregivers finally move on to accept the adult status of their offspring, they change the secure base through which they allowed their children to explore the world (Bowlby, 1969): instead of providing guidance in learning morals and values, the relationship becomes one of constant support and trust between equals (Aquilino, 2006).
Although the findings of this study comply with results from previous research on the influence of parenting on character development in adult life, there are limitations to be considered. Firstly, the obtained data rely on distant memory that cannot be objective, due to the fact that memory could have been affected by experiences from childhood to adulthood (Blondin et al., 2011). Depending on familiarity with the general belief that authoritative parenting raises the most well-adapted children, participants may have portrayed their parenting in a more positive light than it really was. Furthermore, parenting is influenced by external factors such as culture and religion, which could not be controlled for in this study. Finally, the interviewer plays a major part in qualitative research by influencing the participant in front of them. Given that this study was conducted by four different researchers, it is important to understand that each one approached the protocol from a different angle.
In line with the previous limitation, a reflexive analysis reflecting on my own influence on the data needs to be included. I consider myself to have been raised with an authoritative parenting style by both caregivers, which is why I have little experience with other forms of child-rearing. Therefore, I approached the research question in a way that focused on the stages of development that I am familiar with. If I was to repeat a study on this topic, I would probably approach the data collection by trying to explore different parenting styles without assuming that everyone had similar experiences to mine by focussing, for example, on the cultural influence on parenting, an aspect that came short in this analysis. In the future, I will probably select a participant that is not close to me personally, giving them the possibility to disclose freely to an objective stranger.
To conclude, several studies have looked into the relationship between parenting in young age and the development of personality in adulthood, mostly finding that how children turn out to be as adults depends largely on the balance between demands and responsiveness provided by the caregiver. This study, focussing on the personal experience of parenting from own recall and self-perception of personality development, found that participants perceived parental authority as a necessity to learn about discipline and morals, but later pushed for independence in puberty. With this newly gained independence, participants developed their own individual goals and personality, based on their previous experiences. Although the transition to independence might be accompanied by conflict, participants reported to maintain a profound friendship to their caregivers. Despite the fact that these findings may have been influenced by the researcher and the participants’ memory, this study yields relevance for future research: due to the importance of the topic of parental influence on the future generation, it might be interesting in the future to generalise these findings to a wider population using more extensive quantitative data and to look into other potential influences, such as culture, on adulthood personality.
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Appendix 1: Interview with participant 1 (age: 18, gender: female)
Appendix 2: Semi-structured interview protocol consisting of 6 questions.
1. How would you describe your parents’/caregiver’s parenting style?
2. Describe the nature of your attachment to your caregiver.
3. Was the parenting style consistent throughout your life or did it adapt to your development pace?
4. How would you compare the parenting style you were raised with to your siblings’/friends’ parenting style?
5. How do you think your relationship with your parent/caregiver influenced/shaped the person you are today?
6. How do you think your relationship with your caregiver has influenced your relationships with others?
Appendix 3: Participant consent form.
Evaluating the experience of parenting style and attachment as an influence on adult life
This Advanced Research Methods (1PSY501) small group work is being conducted by Stefanie Oliveira, Mahera Rahman, Lysette Adjei and Khadija Al-Rubae as part of a BSc (Hons) Psychology degree course at the University of Westminster. The work is being supervised by Seminar Leader Donna Taylor in the Psychology Department and fulfils the generic limitations necessary for approval by the Departmental Ethics Committee.
This small group work research is concerned with the evaluation of personal experience of parenting style and attachment in earlier life as a major influence in later adult life, focussing especially on young adults in their twenties.
You will be asked to participate in a Qualitative Methods semi-structured interview consisting of 6 major questions. The whole procedure should take around 15 minutes to complete.
• Participation is entirely voluntary, and you have the right to withdraw at any time without having to give a reason.
• If there are any questions you do not wish to answer, you do not have to answer them.
• Your responses will be treated with full confidentiality. No individuals will be identifiable from a report of the research.
• You will receive debriefing information verbally upon completion of the study, explaining in more detail what it was about.
• If you need to contact the researcher after participating, please send an email to [email protected] (Stefanie Oliveira) or [email protected] (Donna Taylor).
A copy of the information provided above is available for you to take away.
If you agree to participate having read the information given above, please sign or initial below. This consent form will be stored separately from any data you provide so that your responses remain anonymous.
____________________________________________________ Date __________
Appendix 4: Main conclusions from focused and thematic coding.
Table 1. Main focus codes and categories emerging from the data.
– defining strictness as having to obey orders
– setting term and rules
– seeing discipline as necessity to learn
– being taught morals and values
– being disciplined as a consequence of disobedience
Defining strict authority as necessary
– separating from caregiver
– linking strictness to puberty
– experiencing less strict parenting over time
– being treated like an adult
– becoming self-reliant
– developing confidence & open-mindedness
– believing in self
Individual goals and personality traits
– disclosing secrets
– maintaining close relationship despite strictness
– being treated like an equal
– being motivated to achieve the best
– seeking advice, help, protection & proximity
Seeing the caregiver(s) as a friend
Appendix 5: Ethical approval given by external seminar leader.