Gender, Religion, and Adolescent Patterns of Self-Disclosure in the Divided Society of Northern Ireland

Article excerpt

Since the pioneering studies by Jourard (1961, 1964), the phenomenon of self-disclosure has received enormous attention from researchers, such that the literature in this area is now voluminous. As Tardy and Dindia (1997), in their review of the field, noted: "Literally thousands of quantitative studies have been conducted over a period extending forty years" (p. 213). As illustrated by Kowalski (1999), these studies have investigated the impact of a wide range of variables upon level of disclosure. However, two areas that have remained relatively unreasearched are adolescence and religion. This paper seeks to redress the dearth of data on these variables by investigating their impact upon disclosure in the context of the divided society that is Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland is split by both religion and politics along the parallel lines of Catholic/Nationalist and Protestant/Unionist. In many parts of the country, children of one religion never meet or talk with children of the other denomination. As well as worshipping in different churches, they live and socialize in homogeneous communities, play different sports, and engage in separate cultural pursuits (Dunn, 1995). In addition, almost all Protestants attend state, or "controlled," schools, while Catholics go to Catholic, or "maintained," schools. (There is a growing integrated education sector where children from both denominations are educated together, but this currently represents only about 2% of all schools.)

While social scientists have investigated many facets of the effects of the prevailing politico-religious apartheid upon the Northern Ireland population (Cairns, 1994), there has been almost no research into how this impacts patterns of self-disclosure. Many questions remain unanswered. Have young Protestants and Catholics developed different attitudes toward disclosure? Are there differential patterns of disclosure to friends and strangers? Do gender differences in self-disclosure exist between the two "tribes"? The present study sought to make a contribution to the knowledge in this field by examining levels of disclosure among adolescents in both communities.

A range of investigations has revealed that, in general, self-disclosure increases with age (Coupland et al., 1991). However, the most problematic age seems to be mid-adolescence, when disclosure tends to be lowest. It has been argued that at this stage of development, individuals are still forming their identity and trying to "find themselves," with consequent difficulties for self-revelation (Hargie et al., 1994). This explanation should be treated with caution, as further empirical research is needed.

Youniss and Smollar (1985), in their investigation of adolescent friendships, found that female adolescents enjoyed "just talking" with their same-sex friends more so than did male adolescents. Approximately 66% of the females reported having close same-sex friendships that involved personal and supportive discussions, whereas 60% of males had friendships in which little or no discussion of an intimate nature took place. Females engaged in more intimate disclosure (e.g., family problems, personal development), whereas males tended to engage in nonintimate disclosure (e.g., school events, grades).

A later study of adolescent disclosure by Papini et al. (1990), which examined the effects of age and gender on patterns of self-disclosure, revealed that female adolescents displayed more emotional self-disclosure to parents and peers than did their male counterparts. In addition, age exerted an effect on preferred target of disclosure, with younger adolescents disclosing more to parents, and older adolescents disclosing more to peers.

Garcia and Geisler (1988) conducted a study with an adolescent sample to determine gender differences in self-disclosure to each of four targets, namely mother, father, best female friend, and best male friend. …