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College students' perceptions of parent -child relationships and their correlates: Explanatory style and empathy

David Ray Webster, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


In classical attachment theory, parental attachments are believed to form the basis of a cognitive framework for psychological development and interpersonal functioning. This study investigated the theoretical concept of attachments to parents as having pervasive influence on psychological adaptation into young adulthood. It was also believed that separate attachments to mothers and fathers would produce differential effects on psychological adaptation and that these attachments would continue to be influential for young adults. Specifically, traditional-age (approximately 18 to 23) college students' perceptions of separate attachments to their mothers and fathers were related to students' self-reported explanatory style and empathy. Because of their presumed importance for interpersonal functioning and adaptation, explanatory style and empathy were believed to be important variables to investigate in connection to parental attachments. ^ Using a survey methodology, data were collected and analyzed from 362 college students (women: 288, men: 74) who attended a Midwestern university. Students from a variety of undergraduate courses received course credit for their participation in the study. ^ Results of a multiple regression supported the hypothesis that parental attachments, assessed by the Inventory of Parent Attachments (IPA; Armsden & Greenberg, 1989), were positively related to explanatory style. Davis' (1980) Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI) was used to assess cognitive empathy (Perspective-Taking) and emotional empathy (Empathic Concern, Personal Distress). The hypothesized relationship between Mother Attachment and empathy was partially supported: Mother Attachment was positively related to cognitive empathy (Perspective-Taking) and emotional empathy (Empathic Concern). However, Father Attachment was negatively related to Personal Distress. Unexpectedly, Personal Distress emerged as the single best predictor of positive-negative explanatory style. ^ Participants' written responses on the Attributional Style Questionnaire (ASQ; Peterson et al., 1982) were qualitatively analyzed. Six attributional themes were identified: Self-Traits, Self-Behaviors, Other's-Traits, Other's-Behaviors, Relationship, and Circumstances. Notable distinctions emerged between men and women on the themes. Overall, women wrote more relationship-based causes (41%) than men did (31 %). Men endorsed more self-based causes (Self-Traits, Self-Behaviors) than women at more than a 4:1 ratio. ^

Subject Area

Psychology, Social|Education, Educational Psychology|Psychology, Developmental

Recommended Citation

Webster, David Ray, "College students' perceptions of parent -child relationships and their correlates: Explanatory style and empathy" (2002). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3041363.