Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

How Are Parental Psychological Control and Autonomy-Support Related? A Cluster-Analytic Approach

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

How Are Parental Psychological Control and Autonomy-Support Related? A Cluster-Analytic Approach

Article excerpt

This study addresses the hypothesis that the relationship between parental psychological control and autonomy-support depends on how autonomy-support is conceptualized, that is, in terms of promotion of independence or in terms of promotion of volitional functioning. Questionnaires tapping into psychological control and these two types of autonomy-support were administered to a sample of 495 emerging adults. Cluster analysis revealed that, whereas parental promotion of independence may or may not co-occur with psychological control, high parental promotion of volitional functioning systematically goes together with low psychological control and vice versa. Differences between clusters in terms of adjustment were mainly driven by differences in psychological control and promotion of volitional functioning and to a lesser extent by differences in promotion of independence.

Key Words: cluster analysis, development, emergent adulthood, outcomes, parenting styles, youth.

In current socialization theory and research, there is general consensus that autonomy-supportive parenting yields numerous benefits for adolescents' and emerging adults' adjustment (Grolnick, Deci, & Ryan, 1997). Conversely, there is substantial agreement among scholars that controlling, pressuring, and manipulative parenting undermines adjustment and well-being (Barber & Harmon, 2002). It is striking, however, that the constructs of autonomy-supportive and controlling parenting have been studied in relative isolation from one another. Consequently, little research has addressed the question of how autonomy-supportive and psychologically controlling parenting are related. Moreover, the few studies that explicitly examined the relation between parental autonomy-support and parental control have obtained divergent results.

This study aims to shed light on the relation between perceived parental autonomy-support and psychological control by differentiating between two conceptualizations of parental autonomy-support, that is, Promotion of Independence (PI) and Promotion of Volitional Functioning (PVF; Soenens et al., 2007). To examine the relationship between these two types of autonomy-support and psychological control, we adopt a person-centered approach (i.e., cluster analysis), which allows us to examine how perceptions of these two types of autonomy-support naturally co-occur with perceived parental psychological control. A second aim of this study is to examine differences among these parenting constellations in terms of emerging adults' well-being. We addressed our study aims in a sample of emerging adults (aged 18 - 25 years) because emerging adulthood represents a Ufe period where individuals increasingly display independent functioning (Arnett, 2000). This development is reflected both in behavioral changes (e.g., transitioning from semi-autonomous hving during the coUege years to fully independent tiving) and in socio-emotional changes (e.g., developing a clear sense of identity). Given that processes of individuation and identity exploration are highly sahent during emerging adultfiood (perhaps even more so than during adolescence; Arnett), it is of particular importance to examine how parents can either support or hinder adaptive development during this life period.


Early research mapping the domain of parenting described parental autonomy-support and control as opposite ends on a single continuum. In a large-scale factor analysis, Schaefer (1965) discovered a factor defined by parental behaviors such as "intrusiveness," "possessiveness," and "control tiirough guilt." Although this factor was only characterized by negative loadings of controlling behaviors (and not by positive loadings of autonomy-supportive behaviors), Schaefer labeled this factor as "Psychological Autonomy versus Psychological Control," thus assuming that psychological control and autonomysupport are opposite constructs. …

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