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Parental Bonds in Cultural Context 81


Parental Bonds in Cultural Context:

The transmission of values for relatedness to the next generation

Susan E. Anvin

Pacific Graduate School of Psychology


A review on the literature concerning children's bonds with their parents is conducted. First, the constructs of attachment and parenting are explored, especially focusing on cultural assumptions embedded in the conceptualization of these phenomena. A discussion on culture and culture change follows. The literature on parental bonding is then explored, focusing on Parker, Tupling and Brown's (1979) Parental Bonding Instrument (PBI). The psychometric properties of the instrument are reviewed, with an emphasis on the origins of the instrument and factor analytic studies of parental bonds. Factor analytic studies have tended to find 3 factors in children's descriptions of their parents, However, the 2nd and 3rd factors are not consistent from study to study, and tend to be weaker than the first. A 2 factor model, such as that used in the PBI, emerges as the most useful solution. Common findings with the PBI are then examined in adult, child and adolescent populations. These include a strong and generally non-specific link between scores on the PBI and psychopathology, found in both adults and child populations. Cross cultural findings with the PBI are then examined. Researchers have found differences in parental bonds in several cultures. However, this research is hampered by several significant confounds, as well as a lack of established validity for the constructs of the PBI in non-western cultures. Needs for future research are discussed, focusing in particular on the sources of parental bonds, and how they are passed from one generation to the next within a cultural context.
Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Literature Review

Parenting in the cultural context 4

Attachment theory 4

Culture and culture change 10

Parental Bonding and the PBI: Review of past research 15

Background on the creation of the PBI 18

Reliability and validity studies with the PBI 20

Factor structure of the PBI 23

Common research findings in adult samples 26

Common research findings in child and adolescent samples

Depression and related constructs 29

Non-depressive conditions 36

Cross-cultural research with the PBI

Validity 42

Cultural differences 45

Summary and Conclusions 53

Remaining research questions 59

Chapter 2: Hypotheses 63

Chapter 3: Proposed Methods

Participants 66

Procedures 66

Adult Measures 67

Child Measure 68

Data analysis 69

References 73

Tables 80

Parental Bonds in Cultural Context:

The transmission of values for relatedness to the next generation

One of the most powerful forces in shaping human behavior, personality, and values is the process of parenting and a child's relationship with its parents. This relationship begins at birth, and grows through the process of attachment through a child's early years. As the child become older, parents take more of a role as educators, training the child in the skills it will need to interact in society. This process, however, does not occur in a vacuum; it occurs in the context of the larger society, which helps to define both acceptable behaviors for parents and successful outcomes for children. For example, there are laws that govern minimum standards for care and punish parents for gross neglect or abuse. A child's success is also to a large degree measured by its performance in state run schools, and later in establishing a career, family, and social network of their own. It is this cultural context that parents must train their children to interact with, and it is this cultural context that will define the standards by which we judge parents and their relationships with their children. Thus, no examination of parenting is possible outside of the context of the culture parents are embedded in. This relationship between parenting, parent-child relationships, and the larger culture must be held in mind through any examination of parenting in the research literature.

Attachment theory

The process of parenting and of building parent-child relationships begins from infancy and continues throughout the life of the child. The start of this process is described in depth in attachment theory, which has grown out of the pioneering work of John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth (Bretherton, 1992). Drawing heavily on ethology, Bowlby described a biologically driven system by which an infant strives to maintain proximity to its primary caregiver. Prolonged separation from the caregiver provokes a consistent set of reactions, starting with protesting and crying, and leading to a withdrawal from social interaction. The attachment system serves the evolutionary purpose of protecting the infant from a hostile environment (Main, 1996). The infant will constantly monitor the environment to assess the accessibility of a few older caretaking figures, and when it is aroused or alarmed, will cry for or flee to these individuals for support and protection. Countering this drive to seek protection is the infant's innate drive to explore its environment, and the child will vacillate between periods of exploration and retreats to the protection of the attachment figure (Hazan & Shaver, 1990). Nearly all infants form some degree of attachment to one or more adults by the age of 7 months, and attachments tend to be formed with the individuals who interact most with the infant (Main, 1996). The strength of these bonds is thought to predict the infant's future ability to form social relationships, both with its parents and with other individuals (Bretherton, 1992).

A great deal of early research from Mary Ainsworth went into examining the causes of secure infant attachments (Bretherton, 1992). In a study of mothers in Uganda as well as a sample of mothers in Baltimore, Ainsworth found that infants with a secure attachment to their mothers (i.e. those who were able to leave their mother to explore, and re-unite with her easily to obtain support) had mothers who were more responsive to the infant's communications. This included both the timing and the appropriateness of the mother's response. As the infants grew older, those with sensitive mothers were seen to cry less, and use more benign forms of communication, such as facial expressions, gestures and pre-verbal vocalizations. Although they sought less contact with the mother, the contact appeared more satisfying and affectionate than the contact in less securely attached pairs (Bretherton, 1992). Overall, it is thought that infants of mothers who are appropriately sensitive to their needs develop an internal representation of the world as safe, of others as capable of meeting their needs, and of themselves as worthy of attention (Main, 1996).

Infants are classified using procedures delineated by Mary Ainsworth into one of 3 groups (Main, 1996). Securely attached infants are those who show minor anxiety during brief maternal absences, and are easily soothed at her return. They quickly return to play, stopping to check in with the mother at frequent intervals. Insecure-ambivalently attached infants are those that appear preoccupied with the mother throughout observations. They protest loudly at her departure, and are unable to be soothed and return to play upon her return. They appear clingy and demanding, but do attempt to maintain emotional contact with their mother. Insecure-avoidantly attached infants show little reaction to their mothers at all. They do not cry upon separation, and continue to play by themselves, avoiding contact with the mother when she returns. A fourth group has been added by later researchers, which includes infants with a disorganized attachment style. These infants cannot be classified into any of the original 3 groups, and tend to show a confusing combination of approach and avoidance behaviors toward the mother. This last pattern is seen most often with infants who have been maltreated.

Later research has focused on attachment-like dynamics in adults and their recollections of childhood relationships with their parents, particularly in relation to their own children's attachment styles. Van Ijzendoorn (1995a) conducted a meta-analytic review of studies with Mary Main's Adult Attachment Interview (AAI), in which the attachment styles of parents are compared to the attachment styles of their children. The AAI classifies adults into 5 categories based on the narrative coherence of their descriptions of childhoods memories. This includes two groups of autonomous or securely attached adults – those who can talk about their past in clear, relevant and succinct terms. Continuous autonomous adults are those that describe supportive childhood experiences in this manner, while achieved autonomous adults are those that describe difficult or painful material in this manner. There are 3 non-secure adult attachment patterns, which are analogous to the 3 insecure infant attachment styles. Preoccupied adults, analogous to insecure-ambivalent infants, describe their pasts in emotional terms, showing confusion, anger, or other forms of preoccupation with the attachment figures they describe. Dismissing adults, analogous to insecure-avoidant infants, describe their parents in positive terms, but either cannot provide examples to back up these descriptions, or provide examples that run counter to these overly positive descriptions. Finally, unresolved/disorganized adults, analogous to disorganized infants, show momentary lapses in reasoning, monitoring or discourse in discussion of their childhood experiences.

Van Ijzendoorn (1995a) examined 14 studies looking for theorized connections between adult attachment status on the AAI and the attachment status of the children of these adults. He found that parent attachment styles explained 22-35% of the variance in children's attachment styles, showing a strong pattern of intergenerational transmission. Correspondence between adults attachment style and child attachment style was %69-70 across the 3 primary infant classification types, and 63-65% across all 4 infant classification types. The overall correlation between dismissing and avoidant styles was .45, and between preoccupied and ambivalent styles was .42. It is clear that adult attachment styles affect parent's abilities to form secure attachment relationships with their children, and influence the nature of insecure attachments. There was also a large effect size seen for the relationship between parents' attachment styles and their ability to be responsive to their children's needs.

In order to interpret the above results as showing generational transmission of attachment styles, we must also show that adult attachment styles are linked to earlier infant attachment styles. This would involve a longitudinal study of the same participants over at least 18 years, from infancy to adulthood. Waters, Hamilton and Weinfield (2000) introduces 3 such studies published in the same volume of this journal. Two found that attachment security was significantly stable from infancy to adulthood. Discontinuity in attachment security status across all 3 studies was a result of negative life events. In the one study showing no significant stability (Lewis, Feiring and Rosenthal, 2000)., divorce of the parents was significantly related to later attachment insecurity. Van Ijzendoorn (1995b) describes an additional 2 studies of this sort. Both found no stability from infancy to adulthood in attachment classification. Life events such as divorce, parental illness or death in the family explained the discontinuity in attachment status. These factors explained up to 70% of the variance in adolescents' attachment security. Evidence seems to indicate that, baring major life events, attachment is likely to be continuous from infancy to adulthood, and that discontinuities tend to be explained by changes that occur within the context of parent-child relationships. Although there is not always a direct connection between one's infant attachment and one's adult attachment, there appears to be a reliable connection between additive childhood experiences of parents, adult attachment styles, and the subsequent attachment of the next generation of children.

The research described above shows a pattern of generational transmission of parent child relationships, starting in infancy, modified through significant childhood events, and later passed on to children through the parent's ability to be responsive to the child's needs for relatedness. These relationship patterns have shown some significant cross cultural relevancy (Main, 1996), indeed Mary Ainsworth's conceptualization of secure attachments and maternal sensitivity were developed through work with an African population (Bretherton, 1992). However, it should be noted that these relationships, while they appear to occur in diverse societies and may well initiate from bioevolutionary drives for proximity, are still nurtured and interpreted through the lens of culture. Western researchers see the child as using the parent as a secure base for independent exploration (e.g. Hazan & Shaver, 1990), a western cultural ideal. Other cultures may see this exploration as less healthy, or may nurture it in a different direction later in life, seeing connection to the family as primary, and forays into the larger world as part of a process of bringing honor to one's family. Each of these would be valid cultural interpretations of the same set of behaviors, and each would lead to a different nurturing of the ever changing bond between children and parents. As parenting diversifies beyond the daily routines of feeding, soothing, cleaning and caring that every infant needs, cultures will begin to diversify in their emphasis on different values for the child. While the seeds of relatedness lie in the early years, the social rules for relating to others will be taught through verbal interactions with the parents, and observing the parents interacting with other adults and children. The parents will carry out, to the best of their abilities, the job of integrating this new person into the larger culture. Attachment is just the first step on this road.

Culture and Culture Change

Before we can examine the role of culture in parenting and parent-child relationships, we must first understand how culture can be defined and measured. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, 10th ed. (2003) defines culture as “ a : the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon man's capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations b : the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group c : the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes a company or corporation” Clearly culture is a broad concept, that can describe trends as large as the evolution of society over millennia, and as small as the unique aspects of a sub-group of individuals within a town. Attempts to measure culture need to take this into account. They need to have the ability to describe the several aspects of culture given in the above definitions (beliefs, social forms and material traits; shared attitudes, values, goals and practices) in such a way that differences in each can be compared. They also need to be able to describe these aspects of culture across several domains, which could include family relations, work or school, peer relations, and other social groups. Only this type of diversity of description is likely to show meaningful differences at all the levels culture can be examined, from between continents, to within small subgroups.

In order to be able to compare several cultures on one instrument across many domains, a guiding theory is needed to describe primary dimensions on which cultures commonly differ. The most commonly used distinction in the research literature to date is between Individualist and Collectivist cultures (Triandis, McCusker & Hui, 1990). Individualistic cultures include many western nations such as the United States, Britain and Australia. Individualist cultures emphasize the uniqueness of the individual, and expect members to make choices based on cost or benefit to that individual. Individuals are expected to be self-reliant and not depend on others for support. Collectivist cultures, on the other hand emphasize the connections between the individual and larger societal groups, often with special emphasis on the family. Members are expected to make choices based on the greater good to their relevant social groups, and the giving and taking of support are encouraged, in their appropriate time and place. People within cultures may vary in their degree of individualism or collectivism, and different cultures may put greater or lesser emphasis on each set of values in different social settings. This conceptualization allows researchers to structure their examination of cultural beliefs, practices and values in various settings. Given that the focus of this distinction is on social relatedness, it is most appropriate for use in research looking at other aspects of social relations.

Once this framework for examining cultural differences is in place, however, problems still remain. Psychological research relies on the assumption that what we are measuring is absolute and distinct from the observer. However, in cultural research there is no neutral standpoint for the researcher to take. Every human is a member of at lest one larger culture, and several subgroups within that culture. Researchers come with a unique set of values, beliefs and behaviors that will shape the questions they ask, and the ways they ask these questions. In generating measurements on individualism/collectivism, they are likely to pick samples of behavior that are relevant to these constructs in their society, and they are likely to compare these measures of culture to other social or psychological constructs that are considered important in their culture. Because of this, it may still not be appropriate to carry out research between two differing cultures. Such research will always carry the risk of being irrelevant or worse, providing misleading support for prejudices.

One exception to this conundrum is in the case of research with groups where individuals of different cultures interact, for example, comparing minority or immigrant groups to each other and to the host culture. Studies in these groups tend to examine the concept of acculturation, or culture change, looking at similarities and differences between members of the host culture and members of the minority or immigrant culture. Constructs and questions from the host culture will still be relevant for these minority groups, because they live in the social and behavioral system of the larger group, and are judged by the same set of standards. In examining what beliefs, behaviors and values these groups maintain despite pressure from the larger group, and which they more readily give up, we can begin to see what values, beliefs and behaviors are the most central elements of a group's culture. We can examine the different techniques parents and others use to transmit cultural information that is not shared by the dominant culture, and in the process learn how cultural information in general is transmitted. The process of culture change has much to teach us about the nature of culture itself, and about the relative characteristics of the two cultures involved, because meaningful comparisons are made possible by some amount of shared experience and societal demands.

The majority measures currently available to examine culture change fail to live up to the standard described above. Many restrict measurement of cultural identification to basic preferences for language or food rather than looking at an array of beliefs, behaviors and values. Others measure cultural traits salient to just one acculturating group. The remainder sample a broad range of behaviors and ideals, but restrict their results to a single scale (Bogumill, 1998). One exception is the Cultural Beliefs and Behavior Adaptation Profile (CBBAP, Shiang & Bogumill, 2001). This measure was generated through a factor analytic study (Bogumill, 1998). Bogumill examined interview data from 117 people of Chinese heritage for descriptions of differences between Chinese and American culture, using Markus Kitayama's (1991, as cited in Bogumill, 1998) theory of Independence and Interdependence as a reference in selecting relevant distinctions. 56 items were generated to tap both beliefs and behaviors across each of 3 domains: family, work and social activities. Factor analysis with a sample of 130 Chinese-Americans and 50 Caucasian-Americans yielded 6 factors: Reciprocity, Family Integrity, Influence of Peers, Value of Peers' and Family's Ideas, Self-Reliance, and Harmony at Work. No further description of the scales were given, but Bogumill notes that the scales did not divide as expected along lines of beliefs vs. behaviors, or based on different domains. Only one scale (Value of Peers' and Family's Ideas) included only belief items, and only 3 scales included items from only one domain (Family Integrity, Influence of Peers, and Harmony at Work).

There are a few problems with the use of this scale. Although it has been demonstrated to have reasonable reliability and validity (Gartstein, Shiang & Bogumill, 2001, Bogumill, 1998), it has not been used in a great deal of literature to date, and thus its properties are not well known. Further, it may not be appropriate for use in populations other than those for which factor analysis was conducted with. Some of the grouping of items on different domains may be particular to this predominantly Chinese-American sample, and may in and of itself reflect cultural ideas regarding what behaviors and beliefs are appropriate across situations. Also, given that items were generated from interview data with Chinese-Americans, it may be possible that many items will not be appropriate measures of culture change in other populations. Further studies with a wider variety of cultural groups are needed to see if these items and factors are appropriate measures of culture change for other minority or immigrant populations. However, within groups of Chinese-Americans and Caucasian-Americans, it is an ideal choice of measures for examining culture change, as it provides scores on several scales, giving a more complex and realistic description of the differences in culture change across individuals.

Parenting is a sensitive topic, and one that must be examined within the context of cultural values. According to Sprott,

If a society is to perpetuate itself, is does so in part by the way it socializes the young. Therefore, the act of disparaging childrearing preferences of a cultural group strikes at the group's sense of esteem and indirectly challenges their right to exist. (1994, p 1111)

Researchers must be careful to take cultural context into account when studying the behaviors of parents and the relationships between children and parents. Otherwise they run the risk of examining parenting from their own cultural standpoint and wrongly disparaging the styles of parenting chosen in other cultures. Childrearing can be viewed as “the 'medium of the message' of culture, the means to transfer values to the next generation” (Sprott, 1994, p 1111). It is this standpoint we must take to explain differences found in parenting between two groups. We should attempt to understand not just that they differ, but what purposes those differences serve. Then the outcome of parent-child relationships can be viewed more honestly, balancing the costs and potential benefits. The reader is asked to hold this idea in mind through the following review, and consider the cultural heritage behind the measurement of parent-child relationships.

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