Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

The Social Relations Model in Family Studies: A Systematic Review

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

The Social Relations Model in Family Studies: A Systematic Review

Article excerpt

The Social Relations Model (SRM) allows for examination of family relations on three different levels: the individual level (actor and partner effects), the dyadic level (relationship effects), and the family level (family effect). The aim of this study was to present a systematic review of SRM family studies and identify general patterns in the results. Results of reanalyses of 17 data sets showed that characteristics of the person who reports on the relationship and the unique characteristics of the relationship were most important explanations of differences in family relationships. The present systematic review contributes to a better understanding of who is driving relationship outcomes in families and provides suggestions concerning the application of the SRM to family data.

Key Words: family relations, parenting, systems.

A large body of research showed that aspects of the parent-child relationship, sibling relation- ship, and marital relationship are all related to the development of child adjustment problems (Dekovic & Buist, 2005; Repetti, Taylor, & Seeman, 2002; Wamboldt & Wamboldt, 2000). The family systems theory has encouraged fam- ily researchers to think about the family as a dynamic and interacting system with sev- eral interdependent subsystems (Cox & Paley, 1997, 2003). In research on family relations, however, the focus is still often on the parent- child dyad, which ignores the fact that family relations are mutually interdependent. Further- more, in earlier studies information regarding parent-child relationships was mostly obtained through reports of only (one of the) parents or the child. What makes one family different from another is the result of characteristics of individuals, dyads, and the family as a group (Cook & Kenny, 2006). Traditional methodolo- gies, however, cannot adequately capture the complexity of the family, and they also have to make a priori assumptions about the level of analysis that would be appropriate for examining family functioning (e.g., the parent-child dyad or the family as a whole). The Social Relations Model (SRM; Kenny & La Voie, 1984) allows for examination of family relations on the indi- vidual level, the dyadic level, and the family level simultaneously. The SRM was originally developed in the field of social psychology to study social interaction data (Warner, Kenny, & Stoto, 1979), but it has also been used to study families for over 20 years (Cook & Dreyer, 1984). Thus the SRM provides information on factors at multiple levels of analysis that may account for family functioning and can there- fore provide empirical guidance for the choice of the family subsystem of focus. The goal of the present study is to review and summarize the results of studies that have used the SRM on family data in order to determine whether general patterns of findings can be identified.

The Social Relations Model

The purpose of the SRM approach in family research is to isolate and measure the different sources of variance that affect the relationships between family members (Cook, 2005). The model posits that there are four sources of variance that affect one family member's relationship with another: an actor effect, a partner effect, a relationship effect, and a group effect (Cook, 1994; Kashy & Kenny, 1990). The actor effect refers to the general tendency of an individual to show certain behavior in the presence of a variety of partners. The partner effect refers to the extent to which an individual tends to elicit certain behavior from a variety of others. The relationship effect refers to the unique adjustment of one person to the other person within a specific relationship, and the group or family effect reflects characteristics of the average member of the group or family (Cook, 2005; Kenny & La Voie, 1984). For example, in a study on warmth in family relationships, a significant father actor effect means that fathers are generally very consistent in their ratings on warmth toward other family members (thus, the actor effect reflect characteristics of the father as a rater across the relationships with family members). …

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