PS276 Lecture 4: Lesson 4 Ch.4

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7 Aug 2016
PS276: Development in Adolescence
Lesson 4: Chapter 4: Families
Influences on Adolescent Development: The Work of Judith Harris
As the text discusses in Chapter 4, there is a good deal of recent evidence from
researchers interested in behaviour genetics that siblings in the same family are as
similar on a number of dimensions, such as personality, as might be expected.
Of course, for anyone with brothers or sisters, this is not such big news! Nevertheless,
because research in behaviour genetics is designed to distinguish the role of genetic
pathways of transmission of characteristics from parents to children ("nature") from
environmental pathways of influence ("nurture"), it is possible to see something of the
role of these different types of factors in family resemblance.
In some of this research, the evidence suggests that once the genetic pathway is taken
account of, there is relatively modest further evidence of what are called shared
environmental effects in families which make siblings similar to one another (e.g.,
Plomin & Daniels, 1987).
Instead, there appears to be more evidence for non-shared environmental effects in
these studies, factors which make siblings in the same family different from one another.
Where could such non-shared environmental effects on personality come from?
oOne possibility is from within the family itself. It is quite likely that parents treat
each sibling differently within the family, and these differences may be important
in shaping variations among siblings (e.g., Anderson et al., 1994).
It is also true that siblings typically have different experiences outside of the family (e.g.,
different school experiences, different friends), and it may be that these non-family
experiences are the most crucial in determining adolescents' differences from their
Indeed, these findings by behaviour genetics researchers have led some to argue that
parents and the family environment may not be very important in adolescents'
oThe best known argument along these lines is that by Judith Harris, in her book,
The Nurture Assumption, published in 1998.
This is an interesting, strongly-worded argument for the impact of peers on development.
oFor example, Harris argues that it would make little difference if we took children
from their homes and mixed them up, randomly placing them into different homes
than their original families!
While Harris does allow that extremely bad homes may have a negative impact on
children's development, she believes that within the "typical" range, family environments
matter little.
Most people find these ideas very hard to accept, but it is an interesting controversy, and
the evidence on this issue is not yet clear.
It is important to keep in mind that these kinds of patterns of influences may vary for
different types of qualities too, though this has not been studied very systematically to
oFor example, personality may not be as influenced by the family environment as
behaviors or values. What do you think about this question?
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Factors Predicting Parenting: Jay Belsky's Model
Common sense suggests that many different factors may influence the patterns of
interaction that parents and adolescents display.
oFor example, difficult adolescents may elicit harsher parenting than their less
difficult siblings (Ge et al., 1996).
As we consider any particular instance of parenting, it is important to take these factors
into account in a systematic way. Jay Belsky (1984) originally proposed a framework for
thinking about potential influences on parent abusive behaviour with their children.
This framework has been extended to cover many other aspects of parenting behaviors
and interactions.
In Belsky's view, there are three interacting aspects of the family and its context that
can be considered in examining parenting.
The first of these, traditionally, is features of the parent, such as the resources and
personality that the adult brings to the task of raising adolescents.
oFor example, adults' experiences in their own families of origin are known to play
a very important role in helping (or hindering) them to care for their child's needs.
oResearch in the abuse literature shows that the experience of abuse in one's own
childhood is a strong risk factor for the adult parent, who is more likely to be
abusive him or herself under these conditions (e.g., Wolfe, D. A., 1985).
Although qualities of the parent are very important, the second set of factors which also
influence parent-adolescent interactions have to do with characteristics of the adolescent
him- or herself.
Adolescents who are particularly difficult, due to their inherited temperaments for
example, can influence parents to treat them in less positive ways.
A study by Ge et al. (1996), mentioned in the text, is a good example.
oIn this research, the behaviors of adopted adolescents were shown to be related
more strongly to characteristics of their biological parents, whom they had never
lived with.
However, these adolescent characteristics in turn were strong predictors of the
disciplinary practices that adoptive parents used in dealing with these adolescents'
These findings suggest that children's characteristics do play an important role in
influencing parents, just as parents play a role in influencing the child or adolescent.
The third type of factor which influences parent-child interaction and parenting,
according to Belsky, includes the social context of the family.
oFor example, the marital satisfaction of parents is substantially related to the
quality of parent-child interactions for both mothers and fathers (e.g., Cowan &
Cowan, 1992).
Many studies show that the social support that parents report feeling in their parenting
role is very important as a predictor of their capacity to be supportive and non-punitive
with the child.
Conversely, studies of important stressors for parents, such as underemployment or
unemployment, show that these problems can adversely affect the quality of parent-
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