Date of Award

8-2008

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Psychology

Advisor

Janice Zeman

Second Committee Member

Scott Eidelman

Third Committee Member

Margaret Fernald

Abstract

The current study explored the impact of cognitive mechanisms associated with parental socialization of sadness regulation in childhood. A growing body of research has demonstrated that parents exert a significant degree of influence on young children's developing ability to manage emotions (Denham, 1998; Saarni, 1999, Thompson & Meyer, 2007). The goal of the present study was to extend knowledge of mechanisms of parental socialization of sadness in middle childhood. A specific cognitive mechanism, the impact of violations of gender-based expectancies, was investigated to determine if deviations from normal regulation of sadness lead to affective, cognitive, and behavioral change in parents when engaged in socialization activities with sons and daughters. This study involved the use of an experimental manipulation, questionnaires and rating scales, and direct observation of parent-child interactions in families of children in 3rd and 4th grade. Participants included 62 children (30 boys, 32 girls) from families of a varied parenting units (59 mothers, 38 fathers; 35 two-parent families) recruited from public elementary schools in the state of Maine. Families were randomly assigned to two conditions that differed in terms of feedback given to parents regarding their child's reported performance on a task designed to elicit mild feelings of sadness. In one condition, parents were led to believe their child demonstrated normal levels of sadness regulation while parents in the second condition were told their child was not able to manage sadness as well as other children. Questionnaires were used to assess the impact of violated expectancies on parents' emotional state and opinions regarding their child's performance. Video-taped conversations between parents and children were then conducted to determine if violated expectancies impacted parents' socialization behavior. Rating scales were completed prior to the laboratory session to assess children's sadness management abilities, aspects of parental socialization, and children's psychosocial outcomes. Overall, the hypothesis that violated expectancies would influence the way parents interact with their child in a socialization context was supported for mothers and fathers. In addition, different patterns of behavior change emerged as a function of parent and child gender. Violated expectancies also altered typical patterns of parental socialization behavior that were found to be associated with facets of children's psychosocial functioning, including social and academic competence. Finally, mothers' but not fathers' desire for change in their child's sadness management abilities mediated the relationship between typical socialization responses and observed parental coaching of emotion during a parent-child socialization analogue. These results highlight the importance of parents' expectations of normal behavior in the socialization of sadness in middle-childhood.

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