Personality development of pre-adolescent boys as a function of mothers' defenses and parental attitudes

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1957

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Abstract

It was the purpose of this study to investigate some of the more fruitful-appearing concepts in the field of personality development, to explore instruments which might make for less ambiguous operational definitions, and to determine interrelationships which might clarify these concepts and give them surplus meanings. It is the belief of most workers in the field that early personality patterns are developed primarily in the context of family relationships. In this study, measures of the mother's traits and attitudes were taken as representing the influence of the family, and behavior patterns of the son were compared in terms of their interrelationships as well as their relationships to maternal patterns. One of the major concepts investigated was that of defense, which was defined as the means by which an individual maintains self-esteem and adjusts to situations in which there is conflict with his prediction system. Previous studies of Selzer (34) and Weiss (41) had indicated that the predominance of a specific defensive system, as Judged from Rorschach protocols, was associated with adult subjects' reported data on developmental background and certain attitudes towards the self and others. The bases of Judgment of defense were descriptive criteria of Schafer (33) on test attitudes, scores and themes. This same scheme was used in the present study. Mothers were chosen on the basis of two judges' agreement of a predominant defense of denial or intellectualizing. Denial (D) is described by Shafer as the tendency to deny facts and feelings that would be painful to acknowledge and, usually, to reverse the painful facts in fantasy. Intellectualizing (I) is described as precluding the experience of affect without restricting memory, perception, and self-awareness. Shafer also describes two other major defense categories, repression and projection. Repression (R) is described as unconsciously purposeful forgetting or not becoming aware of threatening Internal impulses or external events. Projection (P) is spoken of as a process by which an objectionable internal tendency is unrealistically attributed to another person or to other objects in the environment. The sons' Rorschach protocols were judged for degree of presence of any of the four above-mentioned defenses. The work of Ausubel (2), Kelly (20), and others suggested the selection of variables reflecting the nature of the parent-child relationship and of personality development in the child. Ausubel points out that perhaps the most psychologically healthy means for the child to maintain self-esteem is through a process of 'satellization,' or the winning of derived status through volitional dependence on the parents. He says that it is necessary for the child to perceive himself as accepted and intrinsically valued by the parents in order for satellization to take place. Thus, the communication of parental attitudes is considered of great importance. It is proposed that the development or lack of development of a satellizing relationship will lead to different child patterns in dealing with the environment. Kelly believes that such patterns can be predicted from the repertoire of 'personal constructs' that a person develops. These constructs are conceptualizations of people and things by means of which the individual structures the world and tries to anticipate events. The subjects of this study were pairs of mothers and sons, the ages of the latter ranging from seven to twelve. The majority were clients at the Wichita Guidance Center, and a minority were drawn from a suburban Wichita school. There were few apparent differences in data from the two sources. A total of 67 mothers were administered the criterion measure (Rorschach). Of these, 15 predominantly intellectualizing and 15 predominantly denying mothers (and their sons) were selected as criterion groups. In addition, data available for seven repressive mothers and their sons were used in certain analyses. Thus, the N for any one variable ranges from 30 to 36, depending on the data available for each measure. The Rorschach protocols of the mothers were rated by two trained judges. Agreement of the judges on predominant defense, with no other defense rated as moderate, was the criterion for the mother's membership in a defense group. The sons' protocols were rated by the same judges and by the writer. Several kinds of derived defense scores for the sons were examined. The measures of boys' defenses chosen for comparison with predictor measures were obtained by summing weights given to ratings of the three judges. A modification of Kelly's (20) Role Constructs Repertory Test (Rep Test) was administered to the boys. The technique consists of obtaining from the child the names of 15 people fulfilling specified roles. The child is then presented 15 successive triads of names and asked to tell an Important way two of the people are alike and different from the third. The descriptions obtained are called 'personal constructs.' All of the 15 people (figures) are classified by the child as to which pole of each construct they belong. Measures of perceived similarity of the child's self to other figures and categories of figures were obtained by comparing his position (positive or negative) on each construct with those of others. This perceived similarity was taken to represent one aspect of identification, though no inferences could be made as to behavior modeling of the child. The number of figures In variable role categories was also obtained. Other measures derived from the Rep Test were the number of different constructs used (cognitive complexity) and ratings of the 'personal-social' nature of constructs. The former measure was assumed to indicate the degree of differentiation of the child's conceptualization of people, and the latter measures were taken as indicating the degree to which the child used individuals' behavior potentials as a basis for conceptualizing them. The Parental Attitude Research Instrument (PARI), a questionnaire on family and child-rearing attitudes, was administered to most mothers. The Sample 23 Scale 5-Item Questionnaire of Bell and Schaefer (7) was the form used. Measures used were sums of scores on scales found to have loadings on two factors in a study of Bell and Schaefer (7). The scales, scores of which, were summed for the factor II (Hostile Rejection of the Homemaking Role) score, were Rejection of the Homemaking Role (RH), Irritability (Ir). Encouraging Verbalization (EV), Marital Conflict (MC), and Approval of Activity (AA), For the factor III (Excessive Demand for Striving) score, the total of scores from the scales,Strictness (St), Approval of Activity (AA), Excluding Outside Influences (EO), and Martyrdom (Ma) was used. The only single scale analyzed was Avoidance of Communication (AC). A modification of the PARI was administered to the sons in an effort to obtain their perceptions of their mothers' attitudes. The 10 scales used on this modification were Encouraging Verbalization (EV), Martyrdom (Ma), Strictness (St), Irritability (ir). Excluding Outside Influences (EO), Suppression of Aggression (SA), Approval of Activity (AA), Ascendance of the Mother (AM), Intrusiveness (in), and Comradeship and Sharing (CS). Measures of perception of the mother's attitudes on factors II and III described above were obtained by summing the boys' scores on the same scales involved in the mothers' scores, except that MC and RII were not included on boys' factor II because they were not part of the boys' form. Two measures of 'Communication' were obtained from discrepancies of item and scale scores in the mother's and son's PARI. 'Misperception' measures on the separate scales were obtained by subtracting the son's score from the mother's on each scale. Finally, the boy's total scores for all scales were summed to obtain a measure of 'Absolutism,' or the tendency to rate the mother as in high agreement with all statements. The criterion groups were evenly matched on most demographic variables. The education of the mothers in the criterion groups appeared to be equalj but, of the small R group studied, fewer had attended college, in comparison with the I group. The sons of I group were slightly higher on estimated IQ, but there was no difference In WISC Vocabulary subtest raw scores. Boys rated as high on I were more often above the median estimated IQ and more often had mothers with some college education. The reverse was true of boys high on R. I ratings were least likely to be associated with another defense rating In boys. In general, boys tended to perceive themselves as most similar to male peers. The number of male peers chosen Increased with age, though the perceived similarity did not. The use of personal-social constructs Increased with age, while cognitive complexity seemed to be more a function of Intellectual potential. It was found that boys tended to overestimate their mother's agreement with PARI Items, but there was Increased accuracy of prediction with age. There was strong evidence of association of mother's and son's defenses, the transmission of a predominant Intellectualizing defense appearing most consistently. The data were interpreted as Indicating that use of denial In boys is likely to decrease with age because of cultural expectations of the male role. It Is possible that greater use of projection develops later than the age range studied. [...]

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Personality in children

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