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Perceived parental actions and evaluations of the family and its members.

Interpersonal familial problems (e.g., negative attitudes toward family members) have often been associated with traumatic events, such as parental divorce or death of a parent (Ambert & Saucier, 1983; Parish & Dostal, 1980; Parish & Kappes, 1980). However, it might be that how parents generally interact with one another is the key factor in understanding youth and the social-emotional problems they manifest. This is supported by the research of Parish (1988a), in which young adults' self-concepts were significantly correlated with how their fathers were perceived to act toward their mothers (r = .61) and how their mothers were perceived to act toward their fathers (r = .58). To take this one step further, the present study sought to determine the relationships between perceptions of parents' actions toward one another and young adults' evaluations of their mothers, fathers, stepparents (if any), and families.


A total of 64 college students who were enrolled in a human development class at a large midwestern university voluntarily participated in the present study. They completed two forms of the Love/Hate Checklist (Parish, 1988a, 1988b) in order to describe how their fathers acted toward their mothers and how their mothers acted toward their fathers. These checklists consist of 45 "loving" and 45 "hateful" alphabetically arranged adverbs from which respondents choose 25 that best describe how their parents acted toward one another. The score in each instance is the number of hateful adverbs checked regarding each parent's actions.

The Personal Attribute Inventory (Parish, Bryant, & Shirazi, 1976) was administered to obtain evaluations of mothers, fathers, stepparents, and families. This inventory is composed of 50 "positive" and 50 "negative" alphabetically arranged adjectives from which 30 are chosen that best describe the target person in question. The score is the number of negative adjectives checked.

The measures were administered in a counterbalanced fashion. Respondents also were asked to indicate their gender.


As shown in Table 1, the perceived actions of mothers toward fathers and fathers toward mothers were significantly related to each other and to evaluations of the family and its members. Notably, these findings varied as a function of the gender of the respondent.

Evaluations of fathers, for example, were found to be more positive for both male and female respondents if their fathers were perceived to act lovingly toward their mothers. For females, but not males, evaluations of mothers were found to be enhanced if their mothers were perceived to act lovingly toward their fathers. Even stepparents' ratings by female respondents were found to be more positive if parents were perceived to act lovingly (rather than hatefully) toward one another.

There are several possible explanations for these findings, but one seems most apparent. Just as Freud's (1910) theory that severe toilet training impacts upon the developing personality of the child was later modified by Hetherington and Brackbill (1963) when they found that it was not the single experience of severe toilet training but the ongoing nature and personality of the mother in her interactions with her child that had such a lasting impression, so it seems from the findings of the present study that parents' actions, especially toward one another--rather than traumatic events, such as parental death or divorce--may be the key to understanding how fathers, mothers, stepparents, and even the family itself will be subsequently evaluated. TABULAR DATA OMITTED The many high correlations found here are indicative of strong family dynamics. Thus, further study is vital to a better understanding of these dynamics and their implications.


Ambert, A. M., & Saucier, J. V. (1983). Adolescents' perceptions of their parents and their parents' marital status. Journal of Social Psychology, 12, 101-110.

Freud, S. (1910). Character and anal eroticism. In Collected papers (Vol. 2, pp. 45-50). London: Hogarth Press.

Hetherington, E. M., & Brackbill, Y. (1963). Etiology and covariation of obstinacy, orderliness, and parsimony in young children. Child Development, 34(4), 919-943.

Parish, T. S. (1988a). The Love/Hate Checklist: A preliminary report. Psychological Reports, 63, 67-70.

Parish, T. S. (1988b). The Love/Hate Checklist: A further report. Psychological Reports, 63, 294.

Parish, T. S., Bryant, W., & Shirazi, A. M. (1976). The Personal Attribute Inventory. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 42, 715-720.

Parish, T. S., & Dostal, J. W. (1980). Evaluations of self and parent figures by children from intact, divorced, and reconstituted families. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 9(4), 347-351.

Parish, T. S., & Kappes, B. M. (1980). Impact of father loss on the family. Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal, 8, 107-112.
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Author:Parish, Thomas S.
Date:Sep 22, 1993
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