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Cultural differences in family affection and coping abilities for missionary kids.

While the current literature has indicated parental affection as a potential buffer to common stressors missionary kids experience, the majority of the literature is based on European American samples. However, the number of non-Western missionaries is rapidly increasing, and both ethnicity and cultural identification are thought to influence emotional development for missionary kids. In the current study, 77 Caucasian and 41 Asian missionary kids between the ages of 18-25 completed measures assessing perceived parental affection and coping abilities. Fifty-one individuals identified most with Asian culture and 51 individuals identified most with European or North American cultures. Although no significant differences were found between Caucasian and Asian samples, there were significant differences found between those who identified with non-Western and Western cultures on their measures of parental affection and coping. Those who identified with Asian cultures demonstrated greater coping abilities when they scored higher in affective orientation, perceived greater family communication, verbal affection from their mother, and greater affectionate communication from their father. These results were not seen in missionary kids who identified with Western cultures.


Missionary kids (MKs) often grow up in different cultures than that of their parents and are classified under the larger population of Third Culture Kids (TCKs; Pollock & Van Reken, 2001). While MKs are distinct from other TCKs, particularly in their parents' religious affiliation, MKs and TCKs are similar in their exposure to multiple cultures in childhood. Given their mobile childhood, MKs and other TCKs may begin to identify with a culture that is distinct from the culture of their parents or may identify with multiple cultures (Jones & McEwen, 2000). However, while many MKs move back to their parents' home country for college, they report having greater difficulties forming deep relationships compared to non-MKs (Pollock & Van Reken, 2001). MKs also reported having greater grief, increased adjustment difficulties, lower levels of psychological well-being, lower sociocultural adaptation, and greater interpersonal distance from others when compared with their non-MK counterparts (Bikos et al., 2009, 2014; Huff, 2001; Klemens & Bikos, 2009).

Specifically, MKs described difficulties navigating and adjusting to the daily activities of the home culture and feel lost, afraid, and alone (Bikos et al., 2009, 2014). In studying the grief and loss experiences of TCKs more broadly, Gilbert (2008) found that TCKs, including MKs, consistently experienced uncertainties regarding safety and trust, identity, and sense of belonging. Gilbert additionally indicated that the losses experienced by TCKs were often hidden or ambiguous, possibly due either to the lack of permission to grieve or to a sense of responsibility to parents that might have resulted in hiding feelings of grief. Given the variety of losses and difficulties specifying who or what has been lost (Gilbert, 2008), these experiences will be further referred to as potentially traumatic events. Potentially traumatic events, as defined by Bonanno, Pat-Horenczyk, and Noll (2011), are emotionally jarring events that change normal assumptions about the self, the world, and others.

The current MK research has attempted to find buffers to the potentially traumatic events MKs encounter in the mission field and during their readjustment to the home culture. For example, Hervey (2009) found that North American MKs who had fewer interactions with Western peers during their time in their host culture experienced greater adjustment problems when returning to North America. Conversely, North American MKs who spent more time with individuals from Western cultures had better adjustment levels during repatriation. Likewise, in a study by Davis, Suarez, Crawford, and Rehfuss (2013), the researchers investigated the effectiveness of a 13-day reentry program that was designed to facilitate easier transitions from the host culture to the home culture. Modeling the exploratory study by Davis et al. (2010), the seminar included individual counseling, group discussions, and social activities. The results demonstrated that MKs had a significant decrease in levels of depression, anxiety, and stress following the seminar. While these studies emphasize the benefits of social support for MKs' transitions back into the home country, the participants in these studies were mostly Caucasian and therefore likely to identify, by and large, with Western, individualistic cultures. The values of discovering one's unique story and expressing oneself may not remain as significant or maintain the same benefits for MKs who identify more with collectivistic cultures (Markus & Kitayama, 1991).

For the purpose of the following discussion, ethnic identity will be used to describe an individual's identification with a group that shares a culture, phenotype, religion, language, kinship, or place of origin (Phinney, 2003). While there are notable within-country differences, for the scope of this study, Asian individuals will be defined as those who share culture, phenotype, etc. of any Asian country. Caucasian individuals will be defined as those who share culture, phenotype, etc. of European/North American countries. Cultural identification, on the other hand, will be used to describe an attachment to one's heritage or cultural group (Schwartz, Zamboanga, & Weisskirch, 2008). While race is also a term that is used in relation to ethnicity and culture, race is often defined in terms of physical characteristics and limited in providing information regarding ethnic heritage or cultural beliefs and values (Betancourt & Lopez, 1995). Given these limitations, the study will utilize the terms ethnicity and cultural identification as previously defined.

Individualistic and Collectivistic Values

The current research on MKs describes various resources that may buffer against potentially traumatic events (Davis et al., 2010, 2013). However, as stated above, the majority of the participants in these samples were Caucasian and likely to identify with Western, individualist cultures. The results from these studies may not be directly applicable to North American MKs who are not of European American descent or who do not identify with Western culture. There are inherent differences between Western and Eastern cultures that influence the values and experiences individuals internalize (Rothbaum, Weisz, Pott, Miyake, & Morelli, 2000). In expanding upon these differences, Markus and Kitayama (1991) compared the values of individualistic and collectivistic societies. They found that members in individualist societies strove to discover and express their own unique attributes and remain distinct from other people. The expression of unique needs, rights, and capacities was also highly valued. In contrast, members of collectivist societies often defined themselves by social relationships and felt morally obligated to consider the feelings of others. Contrary to members of individualistic cultures, members of collectivistic societies displayed interdependent self-constructs and were highly influenced by the reactions of others. The inherent differences in self-constructs and internalized values suggest the need for further exploration of how culture impacts MKs of different ethnicities and cultural backgrounds.

This brings attention to a growing gap between recent MK studies, in which the majority of participants were European American (Bikos et al., 2009; Huff, 2001; Klemens & Bikos, 2009), and the shifting demographics of MKs. Johnson et al. (2013) calculated that approximately 400,000 international missionaries were being sent around the world in 2010. Although the United States sent out the most missionaries in 2010, three out of the top 10 missionary-sending countries were from the global South; Brazil, South Korea, and India (Johnson et al., 2013). Furthermore, Moon (2008) indicates that the Korean Protestant church is one of the fastest growing missionary movements in the world, sending out an average over 1,000 foreign missionaries each year. Johnson et al. (2013) reported that South Korea sent out 1,014 missionaries per million church members in 2010. Given the growing number of MKs from non-Western countries, an exploration of the unique stressors and effective coping strategies for non-Caucasian MKs has become a pressing research need.

Cultural Identification

While ethnicity impacts one's sense of affiliation to a group, cultural identification may indicate an individual's internalization of cultural values, norms, and roles (Betancourt & Lopez, 1995). This gap between ethnicity and cultural identification is key to research on repatriation among MKs. An individual's sense of belonging to a group typically develops during childhood as children begin to learn social rules and acceptable behaviors (Pollock & Van Reken, 2001). However, MKs often transition between several countries during the time in which cultural identity and a sense of belonging to a group develop. During each transition, they attempt to navigate through several sets of cultural rules and guidelines. While MKs are navigating through various host cultures, they are also learning the rules and expectations of their parents' culture within the home (Berry, 1990). MKs represent a unique population in that their surrounding culture may differ from their ethnic background, and their ethnic background may differ from their cultural identification. For instance, MKs from European or American heritage may begin to identify with Asian cultures if they spend a significant portion of their childhood in Asian countries. On the other hand, MKs with Asian heritage may begin to identify with a Western culture if they spend the majority of their childhood in Western countries. The surrounding culture, combined with their parents' cultural background, will invariably influence an MK's cultural identity development.

In these ways, MKs may experience a unique pattern of cultural identity development, which can be challenging and complex (Pollock & Van Reken, 2001). Erikson (1959), in his eight psychosocial stages of human development, suggested that adolescents needed to successfully overcome the crisis of identity versus role confusion in order to develop a sense of self. However, Wrobbel and Plueddemann (1990) suggested that, given their mobile childhood, MKs may experience the developmental stage of identity confusion for a longer period of time as they reconcile their "inside selves" with their "outside selves"--terms used in Jones and McEwen's (2000) study. Highlighting a similar process of identity development in transnational migrant communities, Bhatia (2007) stated that identity development was embedded in a complex network of multiple cultural practices of the homeland and current place of residence. Culture was influenced by the accumulation of historical experiences lived by one's social group over successive generations. Thus, the emotional development for migrants included an understanding of how both the home culture and host culture shaped the meaning of the self. Given the exposure to multiple cultures during their childhood, MKs may develop .,inside selves., that do not coincide with their .,outside selves., or selves that encompass values and beliefs from several cultures (Jones & McEwen, 2000). While MKs' navigation of their inside and outside selves influences their identity development, this process may also influence the manifestation and interpretation of parental affection within the family system (Wu & Chao, 2005).

Cultural Differences in Family Dynamics

While MKs experience a variety of stressors, the relationship between MKs and their parents has been shown to influence MKs' well-being during the repatriation process (Bikos et al., 2009, 2014). The different family structure and values should be considered for MKs of various cultures and cultural identifications. For example, in a study by Bikos et al. (2009), MKs who reported greater relational strain with their parents also felt that their parents did not meet their needs and were preoccupied with their missionary duties in the host culture. However, these family dynamics may differ in other cultures. The expectation of having one's individual needs met and expressing that need may be more prominent in individualistic cultures and may not represent expectations or family dynamics in collectivistic societies (Bornstein et al., 2007; Markus & Kitayama, 1991; Rothbaum et al., 2000).

While studies utilizing Caucasian MK samples indicate greater parental support as a mechanism to reduce culture shock during repatriation (Huff, 2001) the expression of parental support may manifest itself differently for Asian missionary families. Kao, Nagata, and Peterson (1997) compared explanatory styles (internal vs. external, collective vs. non-collective, global vs. specific), family expressiveness, and self-esteem between Asian American and European American college students. They found that although these two groups did not differ in explanatory styles or self-esteem, Asian Americans demonstrated greater emotional restraint than their European American counterparts. Similarly, Farver, Yiyuan, Bhadha, Narang, and Lieber (2007) compared ethnic identity, child-rearing beliefs, family conflict, anxiety, and self-esteem of Asian Indian and European American adolescents. They found that Asian Indian adolescents reported higher frequencies of family conflict, ethnic identity achievement, anxiety, and endorsement of training and shaming childrearing beliefs than European American adolescents. Furthermore, while European Americans who experienced greater authoritarian parenting reported higher levels of self-esteem, this was not found for Asian Indians. It is of note that these studies were not conducted with MKs; however, given the lack of research focusing on Asian and Asian American MK samples, these studies provide evidence that the parenting styles and family dynamics that promote greater well-being for European American MKs may differ than those that promote greater well-being for non-Western identified MKs.

Cultural Differences in Parental Affection

Although Caucasian MKs who reported greater parental support also reported better adjustment to the home culture (Huff, 2001), the expression of parental support may differ among families living in, or identifying with non-Western cultures. Indicators of close parent-child relationships in Western culture are characterized by demonstrations of attunement and responsiveness (Bowlby, 1973). While greater parental expressions of verbal, nonverbal, and supportive affection have been found to increase children's self-esteem (Schrodt, Ledbetter, & Ohrt, 2007), these results may be specific to Western culture. In an examination of one particular non-Western culture, Heine et al. (1999) found that Japanese self-esteem involves self-criticism, self-discipline, effort, and perseverance. In these ways, those in Japanese cultures do not value positive self-regard and striving toward distinctiveness and autonomy in the same way as those in Western cultures. Thus, cultural values may influence the degree of explicit parental affection and positive feedback given to children, and parental affection may be demonstrated differently in non-Western cultures.

Families in individualistic societies may value more authoritative styles of parenting (Schrodt et al., 2007) rather than more restrictive styles of parenting. As such, control could be perceived as an intrusion on fostering autonomy and independence, a fundamental aspect of securely attached individuals in Western society (Bowlby, 1973; Rothbaum et al., 2000). This aligns with the values associated with Western culture (Phinney, Ong, & Madden, 2000). In a study assessing differences in child-rearing practices, Lin and Fu (1990) found that, compared to Caucasian American parents, Chinese parents in Taiwan and Chinese-immigrant mothers used higher levels of parental control, encouragement of independence, and emphasis on achievement. Chinese mothers also had higher levels of parental control and encouragement of independence than Chinese-immigrant mothers. While it was expected that Chinese-immigrant mothers would exercise greater parental control, it was not expected that Chinese mothers would encourage more independence in their children than immigrant Chinese mothers and Caucasian mothers. The researchers found the encouragement of independence was related to the emphasis on achievement. Chinese families may value both familial interdependence and individual independence in order to promote children's abilities to fulfill societal and familial expectations. Interestingly, Lehrer (1996) found that Korean parents considered higher levels of control and greater involvement as a demonstration of love and interest in the lives of their children. Again, this aligned with the collectivistic value of interdependence and shared responsibility found in Eastern cultures (Markus & Kitayama, 1991; Pak, 2006).

The differences between the goals and values of the society, and the resulting parenting behavior, are evident through comparison studies of Western and non-Western participant samples (Lin & Fu, 1990). However, cultural differences are also evident in the dynamics of first and second-generation immigrants. Children of Asian immigrants in the United States, referred to as second-generation Asian immigrants, may encounter different values within the family dynamic and within the physical culture in which they are immersed (Pak, 2006; Wu & Chao, 2005). Depending on the acculturation of their first-generation parents, second-generation children may face clashing values between their peers and parents. In a study by Kim (2005), Korean American families were assessed for the various outcomes of parental control. These families were grouped into two categories, those with American-born adolescents and those with Korean-born adolescents. The results demonstrated that Korean-born adolescents' reports of parental control were not associated with their perception of acceptance or rejection. However, American-born adolescents' perception of parental hostility and undifferentiated rejection were associated with higher parental control. As maternal control increased, perception of maternal acceptance decreased for American-born adolescents, but not for Korean-born adolescents. Parental control appeared to have differing consequences depending on the acculturation of the adolescents.

Similar to second-generation immigrants, MKs often encounter multiple cultures in their host countries while simultaneously navigating their parents' culture within the home (Pollock & Van Reken, 2001). The potential differences between the environmental culture and the culture of the family may influence the manifestation and interpretation of parental affection. In a study by Wu and Chao (2005), Chinese American and European American adolescents reported the same ideals of parental warmth. However, Chinese Americans reported receiving lower levels of warmth from their parents compared to their European American peers. As predicted, Chinese American adolescents had a higher discrepancy between their ideal and perceived amount of parental warmth compared to their European American counterparts. Chinese Americans, but not European Americans, who had a greater disparity between ideal and perceived parental warmth also had higher behavioral adjustment problems.

It is of note that the measure used to assess parental warmth in Wu and Chao's (2005) study evaluated adolescents' perception of their parents' warmth and responsiveness, rather than the level of parental affection provided. Parental affection may manifest differently among cultures, thus creating a discrepancy between parental affection provided by first-generation Asian parents and perceived parental affection by second-generation Asian children (Park, Vo, & Tsong, 2009; Wu & Chao, 2005). The discrepancy between Asian Americans' ideal and perceived parental affection may be a manifestation of cultural differences in the ways Asian parents demonstrate affection, as well as the influence of Western culture on Asian Americans' expectations.

While greater parental support reduced culture shock during MKs' repatriation (Huff, 2001), culture and cultural identification influenced the manifestation and interpretation of affection within the family system (Wu & Chao, 2005). In order to further investigate family affection in Asian American families, Park et al. (2009) examined specific parent-child dyads. Asian American families demonstrated characteristics similar to that of MKs, in that the culture experienced inside and outside the home often differs and creates unique challenges (Pollock & Van Reken, 2001). In their study, Park et al. (2009) found that family affection helped to buffer against the negative effects of the Asian value gap between Asian parents and their college-aged children. Specifically, male adolescents who felt that their fathers responded to them with appropriate emotion (affective responsiveness) also reported having healthier relationships with their fathers. Responding to positive achievements with excitement and unfortunate events with sadness, for example, were considered to be appropriate emotional responses. Daughters who reported receiving greater nonverbal, verbal, and supportive communication (affectionate communication) by their mothers also reported having a healthier relationship with them. While there were no significant correlations between measures of affection and positive parent-child relationships for mothers and sons, female adolescents who reported greater awareness of their emotions and could guide their behaviors accordingly (affective orientation) also reported healthier relationships with their fathers. The results of this study suggested family affection as a buffer against some of the stressors experienced by Asian Americans, which may be applicable to Asian or Asian identified MKs.

As stated previously, past research has shown that MKs often experience potentially traumatic stressors while in the mission field and during the repatriation process (Bikos et al., 2009, 2014). However, the majority of the participants in the current MK literature are European American, while the number of non-Western missionaries is rapidly growing (Moon, 2008). The literature suggests that social support could serve as a potential buffer to traumatic events for European American MKs. While the literature also suggests that family affection may act as a similar buffer to these potentially traumatic events for Asian or Asian-identified MKs, cultural differences in the manifestation of affection necessitate careful consideration (Park et al., 2009). It is of note that only research produced in English was included in the current literature review, and the MKs who were sampled were predominately Caucasian MKs repatriating to the United States.

The purpose of the present study is to examine whether family affection would buffer against the potentially traumatic events that Asian MKs (or those who identify with Asian culture) face by utilizing more culturally sensitive measures of affection. It was hypothesized that higher levels of affective responsiveness, affective involvement, affective orientation, affectionate communication, behavioral control, and family communication would be positively correlated with the ability to cope with trauma for Asian MKs. The current study defined coping as the ability to place one's attention on processing the potentially traumatic event, while also placing one's attention beyond the potentially traumatic event (Bonanno et al, 2011). This definition of coping was used given MKs' difficulties processing and resolving grief and loss in childhood and the propensity for unresolved grief to continue into adulthood (Gilbert, 2008).

Due to the measures used in the study, the correlations from the statistical analyses were expected to be higher for Asian MKs than for Caucasian MKs. These measures were expected to remain sensitive to indirect forms of affection. Additionally, it was hypothesized that MKs' individual cultural identification would influence the relationship between parental affection and their ability to cope. As previous studies have suggested, MKs may begin to identify with cultures that differ from their parents' culture or ethnicity. Although there is limited research on MKs' cultural identification, their cultural identity development remains unique and was expected to influence their family dynamics and coping abilities.



Participants in the current study were recruited through undergraduate psychology courses and MK/ TCK student organizations at Biola University, MKainos Mission Organization, Barnabas International, and through snowball sampling. The sample included 131 participants between the ages of 18-25 (M = 20.85, SD = 2.09); the sample included 44 men and 87 women. Of these, 59% were Caucasian, 32% were Asian, 9% were other, and one individual did not indicate their race. Fifty-one individuals identified most with Asian culture, and of those participants, 49% were Caucasian, 45% were Asian, and 6% were other. Fifty-one individuals identified most with European or North American culture, and of those participants, 69% were Caucasian, 27% were Asian, and 4% were other. Nine individuals identified most with African culture, seven identified most with countries in Oceania, and 13 individuals identified with multiple cultures or did not answer this question.

Each participant spent at least two years on the mission field before the age of 18. Participants were, on average, 3.7 years old at the beginning of their first mission field placement and spent an average of 10.5 years in this first placement. Participants were not excluded based on their current country of residence and may have been residing in the United States or in countries beyond the United States at the time of the study. The parents of the MKs were non-divorced and married at the time of the survey. Participants who were students at Biola University were given the opportunity to receive extra credit for their participation, and ethical approval for the present study was obtained from Biola University's Protection of Human Rights in Research Committee.


This study used a demographic questionnaire, three quantitative measures of family affection, and a coping index. The Family Assessment Device (FAD; Epstein, Bishop, Ryan, Miller, & Keitner, 1993), Affectionate Communication Index (ACI; Floyd & Morman, 1998), and Affective Orientation Scale (AOS; Booth-Butterfield & Booth-Butterfield, 1990) used in Park et al.'s (2009) study were used as the measures of parental affection. These three measures were thought to account for a broader expression of family affection that may be prevalent in non-Western countries. While verbal or physical expressions of affection may be limited in Asian families, affection may be communicated through greater supportive behaviors or attunement to the needs of others (Le, Berenbaum, & Raghavan, 2002). The Perceived Ability to Cope with Trauma (PACT) scale (Bonnano et al., 2011) was used to measure MKs' coping abilities. This measure was normed on a group of high-trauma exposure Israelis and a group of American college students, providing greater sensitivity to non-Western samples.

Demographic questionnaire. The demographic questionnaire ascertained participants' age, gender, ethnicity, and year in school. The participant reported their birthplace, language(s) spoken, and the culture they most identified with for themselves as well as for each member of their family. Participants were asked to indicate their ethnicity and country or culture most identified with in a free response box. The researcher coded participants' ethnicity using the following groups: Caucasian/White, Asian/Asian American, Other, N/A. Participants' cultural identification was coded using six groups: Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, Oceania, N/A. Additionally, participants were asked to indicate their parents' marital status and if participants or family members struggled with trauma or depression. The location of the mission field placement(s), length of time spent in each country, and age of the participant during each placement were each reported as well.

FAD. The FAD (Epstein et al., 1993) is comprised of six subscales. Four of these subscales were used in the study: Affective Responsiveness (FAD-AR), Affective Involvement (FAD-AI), Behavioral Control (FAD-BC), and Communication (FAD-C). For each subscale, participants responded to statements on a 4-point scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 4 (strongly agree) with higher scores indicating healthier patterns of relating within the family. FAD-AR contains six items and assesses a family's ability to respond to an individual member with appropriate affect. A sample statement is, "We express tenderness." The alpha coefficient for this subtest, reported in a psychometric study of the FAD, was .73 (Kabacoff, Miller, Bishop, Epstein, & Keitner, 1990). FAD-AI is composed of seven items and assesses the extent to which family members are interested in each other's activities and concerns. A sample statement is "Even though we mean well, we intrude too much into each other's lives." The Cronbach alpha for this subtest was .76 (Kabacoff et al., 1990). FAD-BC includes nine items and assesses the ways in which a family expresses and maintains standards of behaviors for each member. A sample statement is, "We have rules about hitting people," and the Cronbach alpha score for this subtest was .70 (Kabacoff et al., 1990). Lastly, FAD-C contains six items and is defined as the exchange of information among family members. A sample statement is, "When someone is upset the others know why." The Cronbach alpha score for this subtest was .70 (Kabacoff et al, 1990).

ACI. The ACI (Floyd & Morman, 1998) is composed of 18 items and was used to measure participants' perception of verbal (ACI-V), direct nonverbal (ACIDNV), and indirect nonverbal (ACI-INV) affectionate communication given to them by their mother and father. Participants responded on a 7-point scale ranging from 1 [never) to 7 (always) with higher scores indicating higher perception of parental affectionate communication. A sample statement is, "Puts his/her arm around you." The Cronbach alpha coefficients across parent-child dyads, reported in the study by Park et al. (2009), ranged from .84 to .92. Participants completed the ACI separately for each parent, and the instructions were changed to ask participants how each parent demonstrated affection towards them. Two of the items were changed to fit the present study and replicate the measures used in the study by Park et al. (2009): "Says he/she is one of your best friends" and "Says he/she is a good friend" were changed to "Says you're a good son/daughter" and "Says 'you make me proud.'"

AOS. The AOS (Booth-Butterfield & Booth-Butterfield, 1990) is composed of 20 items and measured participants' ability to be guided by their emotions and to recognize and respond to others' emotional cues. Participants responded on a 5-point scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree), with higher scores indicating greater affective orientation. A sample statement is, "I trust my feelings to guide my behavior." The Cronbach alpha coefficients for the AOS, reported in the study by Park et al. (2009), were .86 for male and .88 for female participants.

PACT. The Perceived Ability to Cope with Trauma (Bonanno et al., 2011) is comprised of 20 items and measures participants' ability to take their focus away from their daily routine and place their attention on processing through the potentially traumatic event. This scale also measured a participant's ability to move beyond the potentially traumatic event. Participants responded on a 5-point scale ranging from 1 (not at all able) to 5 (extremely able) with higher scores indicating greater ability to cope with potentially traumatic events. A sample statement is, "Look for a silver lining." The Cronbach alpha coefficients, reported in the article by Bonanno et al. (2011), were .91 for the forward focus items and .78 for trauma focus items.


Participants were recruited through Biola University, missionary agencies, and snowball sampling. Only those who were missionary children and spent at least two years in the mission field with their parents were asked to participate. Before administering the surveys, participants read and signed an informed consent form electronically. Afterwards, participants completed the demographics questionnaire, FAD, ACI, AOS, and PACT scales in random order. Participants were asked to answer the surveys based on their own experiences in their families and specifically with each parent. Participants completed the surveys electronically through Survey Monkey, an online survey tool. It took each participant approximately 30 minutes to complete the questionnaires.

Data Analysis

In order to examine if the relationship between family dynamics and the ability to cope differed based on ethnicity, bivariate correlations between the FAD and PACT were run separately for Caucasian and Asian participants. The average score was calculated for each of the four FAD subtests, and an overall flexibility score was calculated for the PACT using procedures outlined by Bonanno et al. (2011). Correlations between the AOS and PACT were also run separately for Caucasian and Asian participants in order to assess the relationship between emotional responsiveness and coping abilities. A total score was calculated for the AOS. To further investigate the relationship between parental affection and coping abilities, correlations were run between the ACI and PACT. Participants completed the ACI for both their mother and father.

It was hypothesized that higher scores on each of the four FAD subtests, AOS, and ACI would be positively correlated with scores on the PACT. Higher correlations were expected for Asian MKs compared to Caucasian MKs due to the greater sensitivity of the measures for indirect forms of affection. Additionally, due to the unique cultural identity development of MKs, exploratory analyses were also conducted among the previously stated variables in order to examine if the relationship between parental affection and coping remained similar or differed based on cultural identification. Researchers utilized participants' response on the demographics questionnaire that asked what country or culture the participant identified with most. Those who identified with countries or cultures in Europe and North America were considered Western-identified. Those who identified with countries or cultures in Asia were considered Asian-identified. Participants who identified with other countries or cultures were not included in the analyses.


A series of bivariate correlations were conducted to examine the differing relationships between parental affection and coping for Asian and Caucasian MKs and for those who identified with Asian and North American/European cultures. Surprisingly, only the AOS was positively correlated with coping abilities for Caucasian MKs. Caucasian MKs with greater abilities to be guided by their emotions and respond to the emotional cues of others had higher abilities to cope. This, however, was not evident for Asian MKs. Additionally, there were no significant correlations found between the other measures of family affection (FAD and ACI) and coping for both Asian and Caucasian MKs. Table 1 includes the complete set of bivariate correlations.

Along with the bivariate correlations conducted based on ethnicity, a series of exploratory bivariate correlations were conducted to examine the relationship between parental affection and coping based on cultural identification. The results demonstrated that while there were significant correlations found between the three measures of parental affection (ACI, FAD, AOS) and coping for Asian-identified MKs, these were not evident for Western-identified MKs (see Table 1). Specifically, affective orientation, family communication, mother's verbal affectionate communication, father's overall affectionate communication, father's verbal affectionate communication, father's direct non-verbal affectionate communication, and father's indirect non-verbal affectionate communication were all significantly correlated with Asian-identified MKs' coping abilities. These relationships were not statistically significant for Western-identified MKs. Additionally, other components of family affection were not significantly related to coping abilities for Asian-identified or Western-identified MKs (see Table 1).

It is of note that there were a large number of correlations conducted in the current study. If the researcher had applied the Larzelere and Mulaik correction to control for the experiment-wise alpha error (Howell, 2013), then none of the results found between parental affection and coping for MKs based on ethnicity or cultural identification would have been significant. However, the results of the current study were exploratory in nature and highlight the need for continued research focusing on Asian MK samples, with particular attention to MKs' cultural identification.


The purpose of the present study was to use measures intended to assess non-Western forms of affection and examine whether family affection would be related to increased coping abilities for Asian MKs. Surprisingly, only affective orientation was significantly related to an increase in coping abilities for Caucasian MKs. While the ability to be guided by one's own emotions and attuned to the emotions of others appeared to be related to increased coping abilities for Caucasian MKs, this was not evident for Asian MKs. Contrary to expectation, no other relationships between parental affection and coping were found for either the Caucasian or Asian samples. However, additional exploratory analyses suggested that there was a relationship between parental affection and coping for MKs who identified with Asian countries, thus emphasizing the importance of considering MKs' unique cultural identification. Interestingly, greater affective orientation was related to an increase in coping abilities for Caucasian MKs as well as for Asian-identified MKs. However, affective orientation was not related to coping abilities for Asian or Western-identified MKs. This finding suggests that cultural identification remains distinct from MKs' ethnicity, and MKs may identify with a culture that is different than that of their ethnic background.

As expected, Asian-identified MKs who were better able to recognize and respond to others' emotional cues (affective orientation) demonstrated greater coping abilities. Additionally, greater communication within the family was associated with greater coping abilities for Asian-identified MKs. Interestingly, while verbal affection from the mother was related to greater coping, all forms of fathers' affectionate communication (verbal, direct non-verbal, indirect non-verbal) were related to greater coping abilities. Thus, fathers' affectionate communication, in particular, appeared to play a significant role in increasing coping abilities for MKs who identified with the Asian culture.

These findings were consistent with previous research indicating that affectionate communication is a protective factor against stressors experienced by Asian Americans (Park et al., 2009). Both MKs and second-generation immigrants often navigate through different cultures inside and outside of their home environment (Pak, 2006; Pollock & Van Reken, 2001; Wu & Chao, 2005). For MKs in particular, the differences between the culture within the home and the culture outside of the home may create a contrast effect. Most Asian societies are largely patriarchal, where men are the leaders and financial providers for the home. Asian fathers often demonstrate their love and care for their children through provision and taking care of their basic necessities. Outward demonstrations of love are often rare (Huang, Lin, Tien, & Chen, 2001). However, close father-child relationships in Western countries are often defined by warmth, affection, sensitivity, and engagement (Cabrera, Tamis-Lemonda, Bradley, Hofferth, & Lamb, 2000).

When Asian-identified MKs experience more affection from their fathers, whether it is verbal, direct nonverbal, or indirect nonverbal, the perception of love and care may be heightened when it goes against the cultural norms of the host environment. Caucasian MKs may compare their fathers' affectionate communication to the expressions of affection demonstrated by Asian fathers in Asian cultures. Additionally, Asian MKs who experience more affection from their fathers may also feel the contrast between their experiences and the cultural norm, perceiving greater affection and care from their father.

Similarly, mothers' greater verbal affection was related to higher abilities to cope with stressors. These results may also demonstrate the contrast effect. Traditional Asian cultures value emotional restraint, and affection may be expressed through more supportive behaviors (Kim, Atkinson, & Umemoto, 2001). However, individualistic cultures emphasize uniqueness and self-affirmation, and expressions of verbal affection have been found to increase children's self-esteem in Western samples (Heine et al., 1999). Greater verbal affection from mothers, for Asian-identified MKs, may increase the perception of parental care. Additionally, in patriarchal societies, the father is the head of the household and the primary decision-maker. As a result, communication among family members may be considered unnecessary or of lesser value in comparison to non-patriarchal societies (Huang et al., 2001). Again, the contrast between what is personally perceived and the surrounding cultural norm may heighten MKs perceptions of parental affection and impact coping abilities.

Limitations and Implications

The sample size was limited due to the unique population being sampled, and there were more Caucasian MKs included in the study than Asian MKs. Additionally, participants reported their ethnicity and cultural identification in a free response box, which may have increased researcher bias in the coding process and may not have accounted for important distinctions among members of these groups. For example, Asian and Asian-American participants were analyzed together, even as there were inevitable differences between these groups. It is also important to note that the study did not control for participants' current country of residence. Participants who qualified for the study may have been living in a host country or may have returned to their home country, impacting their perception of family affection as well as their coping abilities. As previously stated, participant's cultural identification may have also been subject to researcher bias given the way in which it was reported and coded in the study. For example, a participant who reported identifying most with an Asian American culture was coded as identifying with an Asian culture. However, it may have been the case that this participant identified most with a Western culture rather than an Asian culture, again, highlighting the potential for researcher bias.

Additionally, as previously mentioned, when the experiment-wise alpha error was controlled for using the Larzelere and Malaik correction, then no significant results were found. Future studies may benefit from reducing the number of questionnaires used, thereby increasing the alpha value per test and, in turn, increasing the power of the analyses. It is also important to highlight that the study did not assess several variables that may contribute to MKs' emotional development. Some MKs resided in several host countries, while others experienced more stability. These factors may have influenced the perception of parental affection and its effects on coping in the current study. The age of each MK during their time in the host culture also differed and may have influenced their cultural identity and emotional development. While Erikson (1959) suggested the critical age of identity development to be between 13 and 19 years old, MKs may experience identity confusion for longer than non-MKs (Jones & McEwen, 2000). The current study included participants from ages 18-25, but future studies should include participants below and above this age range.

Although attempts were made to utilize more culturally sensitive measures of parental affection, the demonstration and perception of parental affection differs from each culture and each family unit. For this reason, the measures utilized in this study may not have been sensitive or broad enough to capture the diversity of the expression of parental affection for both Caucasian and Asian samples. Although there were significant relationships found between variables of family affection and coping for Asian MKs, future studies may also include a measure assessing for parent-child closeness. Parent-child closeness may provide additional insight into non-Western forms of family affection.

Finally, the definition of cultural identification and how it is interpreted may vary from participant to participant. The current study simply asked participants to indicate which culture or country they most identified with and asked participants to respond in a free response box. Future studies may benefit from including forced-choice responses on the demographic questionnaire to reduce ambiguity in coding participants' ethnicity and cultural identification. Including a measure to assess cultural identification to supplement the demographic questionnaire may also provide additional information related to MKs' identity development.

Although this study contained several limitations, it revealed important findings related to cultural identification and its impact on coping. While the terms ethnicity and cultural identification are often used synonymously and interchangeably in the literature, this study demonstrates the need to consider ethnicity and cultural identification as separate constructs for certain populations. As MKs move from different countries and cultures, they may develop cultural identities that remain distinct from their ethnicity, impacting their emotional development in a variety of ways. Future studies involving MKs should not only consider the changing demographics of missionaries, but investigate the differences between ethnic background and cultural identification within the MK and other TCK populations.

Jane O. Kim, Jenny Pak, and Stacy Eltiti

Biota University

Author Note: Jane O. Kim, Rosemead School of Psychology, Biola University; Jenny Pak, Rosemead School of Psychology, Biola University; and Stacy Eltiti, Rosemead School of Psychology, Biola University.

Jenny Pak is now at the School of Psychology, Fuller Theological Seminary.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Jenny Pak, Fuller Theological Seminary, School of Psychology, 180 North Oakland Ave., Pasadena, CA 91101. Email:


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Author Information

KIM, JANE O. MA. Address: 5348 Hickory Hill Dr., S.E. Salem, OR 97306. Degrees: BA (Psychology), Baylor University; MA (Clinical Psychology), Rosemead School of Psychology.

PAK, JENNY. PhD. Address: Fuller Theological Seminary, Graduate School of Psychology, 180 North Oakland Ave., Pasadena, CA 91101. Email: Title: Associate Professor of Psychology. Degrees: BA (Psychology), UCLA; MA (Marriage Family Therapy), Fuller Theological Seminary; PhD (Counseling Psychology), University of Southern California. Specializations: Cultural psychology, Narrative analysis, Bicultural and vocational identity development, Pastoral and missionary care.

ELTITI, STACY. PhD. Address: Rosemead School of Psychology, Biola University, 13800 Biola Ave., La Mirada, CA 90639. Title: Associate Professor. Degrees: BA (Psychology), California State University Long Beach; MA (Experimental Psychology), California State University San Bernardino; PhD (Psychology), University of Essex. Specializations: Attention and emotion.
Correlations Among Parental Affection and Coping
Abilities by Ethnicity and Cultural Identification


                         Ethnicity        Cultural Identification

                      Asian   Caucasian     Asian-      Western-
                                          identified   identified

Parental Affection      r         r           r            r

AOS                   .182     .274 *       .334 *        .124
ACI (Mother)          -.052     -.038       -.036         .015
ACI-V (Mother)        -.005     .112        .296 *       -.032
ACI-DNV (Mother)      -.034     -.049        .196         .064
ACI-INV (Mother       -.050     .141        -.058        -.032
ACI (Father)          -.032     .172       .373 **       -.055
ACI-V (Father)        -.026     .083        .295 *       -.159
ACI-DNV (Father)      -.071     .192        .364 *       -.009
ACI-INV (Father)      .033      .186        .289 *        .023
FAD-AR                -.130     .125         .233        -.002
FAD-AI                -.306     .134         .021         .055
FAD-BC                -.096     .209         .274         .066
FAD-C                 .031      .110        .299 *        .007

Note: AOS = Affective Orientation Scale; ACI = Affectionate
Communication Index; ACI-V = Affectionate Communication
Index-Verbal; ACI-DNV = Affectionate Communication Index-Direct
Non-Verbal; ACI-INV = Affectionate Communication Index-Indirect
Non-Verbal; FAD-AR = Family Assessment Device-Affective
Responsiveness; FAD-AI = Family Assessment Device-Affective
Involvement; FAD-BC = Family Assessment Device-Behavioral Control;
FAD-C = Family Assessment Device-Communication; PACT = Perceived
Ability to Cope with Trauma.* p < .05. ** p < .01. *** p < .001.

Ethnicity and Cultural Identification of MKs


Caucasian   59%
Asian       32%
Other        9%

Cultural Identification

Caucasian-ID   39%
Asian-ID       39%
Other-ID       22%

Note: Table made from pie chart.
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Author:Kim, Jane O.; Pak, Jenny; Eltiti, Stacy
Publication:Journal of Psychology and Theology
Article Type:Report
Date:Jun 22, 2017
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