Psychological control and authoritarian control are thought to be distinct but related constructs (Barber & Harmon, 2002). However, the extent to which the measures are related versus distinct has not been examined empirically. In this article, we consider the similarities and differences between authoritarianism and psychological control. We also consider whether standard measures of psychological control and authoritarianism will function similarly in groups of Chinese and European background.
Psychological Control and Authoritarianism-How Similar Are They?
The phenomenon of psychological control has received a great deal of attention within the last decade (see Barber, 2002). Barber and Harmon (2002) discuss two aspects of psychological control. First, psychologically controlling parents influence children by manipulating their thoughts and emotions. Second, psychological control is intrusive, in that the boundaries between parent and child are not maintained. Thus psychologically controlling parents treat children as extensions of themselves, rather than individuals in their own right. This makes it difficult for children to differentiate themselves from their parents and develop a sense of efficacy and worth. Psychologically controlling practices include guilt induction, love withdrawal, controlling children via anxiety induction, and constraining verbal interactions between parent and child to topics important to the parent. In European samples, psychological control has been linked to more deleterious outcomes in children, including higher levels of internalizing behavior, and lower levels of self-esteem, (see Barber & Harmon for a comprehensive review).
One aim of the present study was to compare a measure of psychological control with measures of parental authoritarianism, in order to determine the extent to which the two constructs are empirically distinct versus overlapping. Barber and Harmon (2002) state that psychological control has often been combined with other aspects of parenting as part of the authoritarian typology, as outlined by Baumrind. Baumrind described authoritarian parents as engaging in restrictive control, in that they demand obedience from children without question or discussion. She also described authoritarian parents as detached, emotionally remote, lower in warmth, controlling, and punitive (e.g., Baumrind, 1971).
Baumrind's (1971) characterization of restrictive control seems to be distinct from psychological control, yet constructs of authoritarian control and psychological control have overlapped considerably in early research. Schaefer (1959) argued that two main factors underlied parenting: control versus autonomy and love versus hostility. While "psychological control" was not used as a label in this initial study, scales that had high loadings on the factor labeled "control" suggested psychological control (these scales included maternal anxiety, intrusiveness, fostering dependency, and excessive contact). However, some scales that reflected control (punitiveness, strictness, punishment, and the use of fear to control) loaded not on the factor labeled "control," but on the hostility end of the love-hostility factor. Schaefer speculated that authoritarian control was a combination of (psychological) control and hostility.
Later, Droppleman and Schaefer (1963) distinguished between "covert indirect control" (i.e., psychological control) and "overt restrictive control" (comprised of strictness and punishment). The latter type of control is similar to the restrictive control that Baumrind (1971) characterized as typical of authoritarian parents. On the other hand, covert control more closely resembles psychological control. These two types of control differ in terms of the methods used to obtain child compliance. Parents using overt, authoritarian control simply demand obedience and obtain it by force if …