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The relationship of psychological adjustment to perceived family functioning among African-American adolescents.


The family of origin is defined as "the family in which a person has his or her beginnings--psychologically, psychically, and emotionally (Hovestadt, Anderson, Piercy, Cochran, & Fine, 1985). The role of family of origin in the inception, incubation, and transmission of psychological maladjustment has been recognized since the early writings of Freud (Anthony, 1971). The intergenerational family interventions of Bowen (1978), Framo (1976), and Boszormenyi-Nagy and Spark (1973) are founded on the tenet that family factors influence individual psychological health. Although several intergenerational models of family intervention are currently employed, their theoretical underpinnings lack empirical validation (Hovestadt, et al., 1985).

A recently developed instrument, the Family-of-Origin Scale (FOS; Hovestadt et al., 1985), was developed from psychodynamic models of family functioning and provides a measure of global family functioning. The FOS is described as reflecting Bowen's (1978) and Framo's (1976) view of psychological health as stemming from family environments that are nurturant and supportive while simultaneously promoting individual autonomy. This balance of autonomy and intimacy appears to be particularly critical for healthy adolescent functioning (Erickson, 1968).

The Family-of-Origin Scale is a 40-item, face-valid instrument designed to measure family health on two primary dimensions: Autonomy and Intimacy. The Autonomy dimension is comprised of the following five subscales: Clarity of Expression, Responsibility, Respect for Others, Openness to Others, and Acceptance of Separation and Loss. The Intimacy dimension consists of the following subscales: Range of Feelings, Mood and Tone, Conflict Resolution, Empathy, and Trust (Hovestadt et al., 1985).

The original FOS was developed to assess adults' retrospective perceptions of their family of origin. Items for the FOS were selected by a panel of six experts in the field of family therapy. A pool of items was generated from which 40 items were determined to most accurately reflect either the Autonomy or Intimacy construct. Half of the 40 items comprise the Autonomy construct; the other half make up the Intimacy construct (Hovestadt et al., 1985).

The FOS was recently modified from its retrospective form in order to assess adolescents' perceptions of their families (Manley, Searight, Binder, & Russo, 1990a). This adaptation involved changing all items from the past to the present tense. This altered version of the FOS was first used to gather data from a sample of 161 nonclinical adolescents. However, since that time, nonclinical data has been gathered from 664 male and female white adolescents enrolled in midwestern high schools (Manley et al., 1990c). To date, data has been gathered only with white subjects.

The modified adolescent version of the FOS (FOS: A) appears promising as both a research and clinical instrument. The FOS: A has shown both internal consistency reliability (.96) and temporal reliability (.95, p |is less than~ .001) (Manley, Searight, Skitka, Russo, & Schudy, 1990b).

Validity studies involving the FOS: A are limited. However, factor analytic (Manley, Searight, Skitka, Russo, & Binder, 1990c) and discriminant validity studies (Searight, Binder, Manley, Krohn, Rogers, & Russo, 1991) have offered support for the validity of the FOS: A. Specifically, in a factor analytic study, Manley et al. (1990c) administered the FOS: A to a sample of 407 adolescents and concluded that the FOS: A, unlike the adult FOS, was a "multidimensional instrument" that was clinically useful. It appears that the FOS: A has a factor structure that is distinct from the adult FOS, and that the FOS may be better suited for use with adolescents. Further, Searight et al. (1990) administered the FOS: A to 40 adolescent substance abusers and 40 nonclinical adolescents and determined that five subscales and the global FOS: A score differentiated substance abusers from nonclinical adolescents.

However, studies investigating the factor analytic and discriminant validity of the FOS: A have used samples of solely white urban and suburban adolescents. Therefore, the usefulness of the FOS: A for urban and inner-city African-American adolescents is unknown. Previous research investigating the relationship of perceived family functioning and adolescent psychological adjustment has consistently related conflict to maladjustment among white adolescents (Kleinman et al., 1989; Enos & Handal, 1986). It appears that conflict also is related to the psychological health of African-American adolescents (Slater & Haber, 1984; Dancy & Handal, 1984). For example, Slater and Haber (1984) reported that among a sample of 150 African-American adolescents, those from high-conflict homes displayed lower self-esteem, greater anxiety, and less internal control than did those from low-conflict homes. Similarly, among 80 African-American adolescents, Dancy and Handal (1984) found that the adolescents who reported higher levels of conflict within their family also reported higher levels of psychological distress as measured by the Langner Symptom Survey. Additionally, in a study involving 32 lower SES African-American families, Borduin, Pruitt, and Henggeler (1986) noted that families of delinquent sons were less warm and more conflicted than were families with nondelinquent sons. In summary, African-American adolescents were remarkably like their white counterparts in terms of the relationship between family functioning and the psychological health of the adolescents.

However, research relating family processes to adolescent maladjustment is limited among African-American families. It is clear that family variables, especially conflict, are important in determining the psychological adjustment of both African-American and white adolescents. However, little is known about family factors that may be related to the psychological health of African-American adolescents in particular.

The purpose of the present study was to further investigate the construct validity of the Family-of-Origin Scale for adolescents by determining its relationship to a widely used measure of psychological adjustment known as the Langner Symptom Survey (LSS; Langner, 1962). The LSS is a 22-item questionnaire originally developed as a means of assessing psychiatric disturbance (Srole, Langner, Michael, Olper, & Rennie, 1962), and is frequently used in research as a measure of psychological adjustment/impairment (Dohrenwend & Dohrenwend, 1969; Kleinman, Handal, Enos, Searight, & Ross, 1989; Kessler & McRae, 1984). Further, the LSS has previously been employed in validity studies with other family assessment measures (Kleinman et al., 1989). A secondary purpose is to examine the relationship between family functioning, as measured by the FOS: A, and adolescent psychological adjustment, as measured by the LSS, among African-American adolescents.



Participants in this study consisted of 135 African-American adolescents selected from high schools in a large urban city located in the midwest. The sample was comprised of 59 (43.7%) males and 76 (56.3%) females. The subjects ranged from 14 to 18 years of age, with the exception of one student who was 21 years old.


The Family-of-Origin Scale for Adolescents (FOS: A). The Family-of-Origin Scale for adolescents is a 40-item, face valid instrument designed to measure family health on two primary dimensions: Autonomy and Intimacy. The Autonomy dimension is comprised of five subscales: Clarity of Expression, Responsibility, Respect for Others, Openness to Others, and Acceptance of Separation and Loss. The Intimacy dimension also consists of the five subscales: Range of Feelings, Mood and Tone, Conflict Resolution, Empathy, and Trust (Hovestadt et al., 1985).

Subject responses are measured on a Likert scale ranging from one to five. Of the 40 items, 20 are positively scaled and 20 are negatively scaled. Scoring of the FOS: A requires reversing the negatively scaled items so that they are scored as positively scaled. The FOS: A yields one global score which is indicative of perceived family functioning. Scores may range from 40 to 200, with the higher scores representing a higher level of perceived family functioning.

The FOS: A is simply the adult FOS with all items changed from past to present tense. The adult FOS is a logically keyed instrument which has demonstrated both high temporal reliability (.97, p |is less than~ .001) with a sample of college students over a two-week interval, and internal consistency reliability (Hovestadt et al., 1985). The adolescent version of the FOS has displayed high internal consistency reliability (Cronbach's alpha = .96), as well as high temporal reliability (r = .95, p |is less than~ .001). The validity of the adult FOS has been supported through a variety of discriminant validity and concurrent validity studies.

Langner Symptom Survey. The Langner Symptom Survey (LSS; Langner, 1962) is a 22-item questionnaire that was originally developed as part of the Midtown Manhattan Study as a means of assessing psychiatric disturbance (Srole, Langner, Michael, Olper, & Rennie, 1962). According to Langner (1962, p. 269), the LSS provides a "rough indication of where people lie on a continuum of impairment in life functioning due to common types of psychiatric symptoms." The LSS is not considered to be a measure of the degree of mental illness, but rather a measure of mild psychological disorder (Dohrenwend & Crandell, 1970). In a comprehensive review of the LSS, Wheaton (1982) concluded that the LSS measures the "extent of anxiety and depression symptomology manifested by an individual."

A moderate temporal reliability coefficient of .75 has been reported for the LSS (Wheaton, 1982). Validity studies indicate that the LSS is not a valid measure when employed as a global assessment of mental illness (Dohrenwend et al., 1970), however, the LSS is frequently used in research as a measure of psychological distress/impairment (Dohrenwend & Dohrenwend, 1969; Kleinman, Handal, Enos, Searight, & Ross, 1989; Kessler & McRae, 1984). Further, the validity of the scale has been supported through its ability to discriminate between psychiatric and nonpsychiatric patients (Langner, 1962).

Each item on the scale has a unique set of answer choices. For example, some items have answers pertaining to how often a particular symptom is present (e.g., often, sometimes, never), while others may simply indicate the presence or absence of a symptom (e.g., yes or no). Symptomatic responses receive a score of one, while nonsymptomatic responses are not scored. Further, some questions have more than one symptomatic response, although subjects are allowed to choose only one response. Scores may range from 0 to 22; however, Langner stated that a score of 4 or higher discriminated outpatients and ex-patients from nonpatients. Further, Langner reported that a score higher than 3 successfully identified 84 percent of incapacitated psychiatric patients.

MMPI Lie Scale. In order to control for false responding, the MMPI L-scale (lie scale) was interspersed within the FOS: A and the LSS. Adolescent norms were used for scoring (cf. Marks, Seeman, & Haller, 1974).

Demographic Data Sheet. A demographic questionnaire which requested information pertaining to each subject's age, race, sex, parental marital status (married, divorced, separated, never married, widowed), and family composition (two-parent, single-parent, stepparent) was administered.


Permission to conduct the study was obtained from the school board of the district in which the high schools were located. Personnel from each high school selected classrooms and time frames in which the questionnaires could be administered. In selecting classrooms, an effort was made to select those with students of varying ages and grade levels. Further, only classes that all students were required to take were scheduled in order to avoid selection bias.

Students were asked to complete a demographic data sheet. After completion, students were given either the Family-of-Origin Scale or the Langner Symptom Survey, depending upon which counterbalancing rotation the student was in. Instructions for the scales were printed at the top of each questionnaire. Prior to completing the forms, the instructions were read aloud to the students. Subjects were given as much time as they needed to complete the forms.


Regression analyses indicated that sex was not a predictor of Langner Symptom Survey responses for this sample, t(134) = 1.04, n.s. Since gender was not related to Langner Symptom Survey responses, the data from this sample were analyzed for the group as a whole.

Correlational analyses revealed no relationship between the MMPI L-scale and any of the FOS subscales or the FOS global score. Significant correlations were present between the Langner Symptom Survey and the FOS: A global score (r = -.22, p |is less than~ .01), the Autonomy construct (r = -.15, p |is less than~ .05), the Intimacy construct (r = -.26, p |is less than~ .001), and the following six subscales: Clarity of Expression (r = -.17, p |is less than~ .05), Range of Feelings (r = -.15, p |is less than~ .05), Mood and Tone (r = -.29, p |is less than~ .05), Conflict Resolution (r = -.18, p |is less than~ .05), Empathy (r = -.23, p |is less than~ .01) and Trust (r = -.15, p |is less than~ .05). In addition, two other subscales were found to be marginally correlated with the Langner Symptom Survey: Responsibility (-.14, p = .051); and Respect for Others (-.14, p = .054). Table 1 presents a correlation matrix for the Langner Symptom Survey and the FOS: A global score, the Autonomy and Intimacy constructs, and the ten subscales. As expected, all correlations were negative, indicating an inverse relationship between perceived family health and adolescent psychological maladjustment. In other words, adolescents who perceived their families as healthy exhibited less psychological maladjustment than did adolescents who perceived their families as unhealthy.

In order to control for false responding, the MMPI L-scale was scheduled in the first step of a stepwise multiple regression (see Table 2). The regression analyses indicated that the MMPI L-scale was not a significant predictor of Langner Symptom Survey scores, t(125) = 1.38, n.s., and accounted for only 1% of the variance, |R.sup.2~ = .01, F(1, 124) = 1.28, n.s. When controlling for the variance associated with false responding, the Empathy subscale emerged as the only significant predictor of adolescent psychological maladjustment, t(125) = 4.81, p |is less than~ .01. Specifically, the Empathy subscale accounted for approximately 7.3% of the variance in Langner Symptom Survey responses, |R.sup.2~ = .07, F(2, 123) = 4.81, p |is less than~ .01. Table 3 presents the results of this regression analyses.
Table 1

Pearson correlations for the Langner Symptom Survey by the
Family-of-Origin Scale global score

Constructs and subscales

Langner Symptom Survey

Autonomy -.15(*) Intimacy -.26(**)

Clarity of Range of
Expression -.17(*) Feelings -.15(*)

Responsibility -.14 Mood and Tone -.19(*)

Respect for Others -.14 Conflict Resolution -.18(*)

Openness to Others -.09 Empathy -.23(**)

Acceptance of Trust -.15(*)
Separation & Loss -.01

FOS Total Score -.22(**)

* = p .05

** = p .01
Table 2

Hierarchical Regression Controlling for False Responding with
the FOS:A as a Predictor of Psychological Adjustment

Multiple R = .27
R Square = .07
Adjusted R Square = .06
Standard Error = 3.20

Regression 2 98.3 49.16 4.81(**)
Residual 123 1257.79 10.2

** = p .01
Table 3
Subscales Entered into Regression Analysis

Subscales Beta T P

Empathy -.25 -2.86 .005

MMPI L-scale -.13 -1.54 .127

Range of Feelings -.12 -1.30 .205

Clarity of Expression -.10 -1.12 .263

Acceptance of Separation
and Loss -.10 1.04 .302

Mood and Tone -.09 -.85 .398

Trust -.08 -.82 .415

Responsibility -.06 -.65 .515

Conflict Resolution -.06 -.59 .558

Openness to Others .03 .27 .786

Respect for Others .02 .17 .865


The results of this study lend moderate support to the construct validity of the FOS for adolescents. The presence of low to moderate correlations between the FOS: A and the Langner Symptom Survey indicate that, in fact, perceived family environment has an influence on the psychological adjustment of adolescents. Psychodynamic theory would predict an inverse relationship between perceived family environment and psychological maladjustment. The negative correlations present for the LSS and the FOS: A global, construct, and subscale scores in this study provide some support for the FOS as an index of psychological health.

The correlation matrix reveals that the Intimacy construct has the strongest relationship with the LSS. Further, five of the six subscales that were significantly related to the LSS fall under the Intimacy construct. Although the Autonomy construct and one Autonomy subscale were significantly correlated with the LSS, these correlations were lower. It appears that perceived level of intimacy within the family is particularly important to the psychological adjustment of African-American adolescents. This view is further supported by the emergence of the Empathy subscale (part of the Intimacy construct) as the only significant predictor of African-American adolescent psychological maladjustment.

In keeping with earlier research with white adolescents (Kleinman et al., 1989), FOS Conflict Resolution was moderately correlated with LSS adjustment in this sample of African-American adolescents. However, Conflict Resolution did not emerge as a significant predictor in the regression equation.

The magnitude of the correlations obtained between the LSS and FOS: A are similar to those obtained in other research investigating the relationship between LSS scores and family functioning in adolescents (Kleinman et al., 1989). Thus, the current study provides some support for the construct validity of the FOS: A with African-American adolescents.

However, as a clinical tool, the FOS: A may have limited value in screening for adjustment in African-American adolescents. As previously noted, the Empathy subscale was the only predictor which emerged in regression analysis. None of the other subscales were significant predictors of adjustment.

Further research with the FOS: A should involve administration of the instrument to other ethnic and cultural groups of adolescents. Analysis of the factor structure of the FOS: A in different cultural groups would provide information about whether the instrument measures dimensions that are similar to those of white adolescents. In addition, it would be of value to include other measures of adjustment in this research. A final area of investigation would be to compare FOS: A profiles of nonclinical adolescents with those exhibiting a diagnosed psychiatric disorder.


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Author:Piatt, Andrea L.; Ketterson, Timothy U.; Skitka, Linda J.; Searight, H. Russell; Rogers, Billy J.; R
Date:Sep 22, 1993
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