Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Personality and Ambivalence in Decisions about Becoming Parents

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Personality and Ambivalence in Decisions about Becoming Parents

Article excerpt

Decisions about becoming parents are difficult to make, and individuals may face ambivalence between hoped-for positive and feared negative aspects of parenthood. Using two samples, we analyzed whether personality is related to ambivalence in parenthood decisions and with coping with ambivalence. In the first study, high levels of neuroticism and low levels of agreeableness were related to higher ambivalence. In the second study, psychological vulnerability was associated with higher ambivalence. Individuals with high levels of extraversion were more likely to seek social support if parenthood decisions became too difficult, and persons with higher levels of openness to experience were more likely to make decisions based on their feelings. Associations of neuroticism with avoidant coping were mediated by level of ambivalence. The conclusion drawn is that sex education with adolescents should include information about ambivalence and promote adequate ways of coping with this phenomenon.

Keywords: fertility, parenthood, decision-making, ambivalence, avoidance, coping styles, neuroticism, personality.

The decision to have a child is associated with high levels of uncertainty (Sévon, 2005). Individuals may face ambivalence between hoped-for positive aspects and feared negative aspects of parenthood, and have difficulties with making the right choice.

In the present study we focused on decisional ambivalence with regard to becoming parents, that is, the coexistence of conflicting intentions whether or not to have a child. When defined as the coexistence between a number of perceived rewards and costs of parenthood, two large studies found 20% (Neal, Groat, & Wicks, 1989) and 21% (Groat, Giordano, Cernkovich, Pugh, & Swinford, 1997) of young adults reporting ambivalence. Among adolescents, between 15% and 30% were ambivalent about pregnancy and parenthood (Jaccard, Dodge, & Dittus, 2003).

Although these studies showed that ambivalence is quite common in decisions about parenthood, predictors of decisional ambivalence have not been investigated. Personality traits may be a relevant predictor. The five factor model of personality has become widely accepted as the most parsimonious and well-validated model of personality traits (Costa & McCrae, 1992). Given the lack of studies on predictors of decisional ambivalence, we will refer to available results on the association of personality with other forms of ambivalence.

As neuroticism is an antecedent of emotional dysregulation, Kokkonen and Pulkkinen (2001) have suggested that high levels of neuroticism would be associated with higher levels of ambivalence. Empirical support for this assumption comes from studies about ambivalence with regard to the expression of experienced emotion (Kokkonen & Pulkkinen, 2001; Laghai & Joseph, 2000) and about ambivalence in intergenerational relationships (Fingerman, Chen, & Hay, 2006). Similarly, ambivalence has been related to impulsivity, which is a key facet of neuroticism (Kokkonen & Pulkkinen, 1999).

With regard to extraversion, Kokkonen and Pulkkinen (2001) and Laghai and Joseph (2000) observed a negative correlation with ambivalence over the expression of emotions, which was interpreted as indicating that extraversion is associated with better emotion regulation. The definition of conscientiousness emphasizes such prosocial attributes as being well organized, self-disciplined, dependable, and hard working. As people with an organized, disciplined, and structured approach to decisions can be expected to show higher levels of directedness and may be more likely to come to a clear decision (Lounsbury, Tatum, Chambers, Owens, & Gibson, 1999), these individuals may also show less ambivalence in their decisions about becoming parents.

Agreeableness comprises such attributes as being kind, trusting, and cooperative. Low scores on this trait are associated with being more distrusting, argumentative, and selfish (Costa & McCrae, 1992). …

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