Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Family Cohesion and Age as Determinants of Homesickness in University Students

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Family Cohesion and Age as Determinants of Homesickness in University Students

Article excerpt

Despite the negative psychological effects associated with the transition to university, little is known about the relationship between homesickness and family functioning. One hundred first-year university students completed a questionnaire incorporating the Dundee Relocation Inventory (Fisher & Hood, 1987) measure of homesickness, and a measure of family functioning. A high level of homesickness was reported among students, with 18% of the variance in homesickness scores accounted for by family cohesion and chronological age. Implications for further research are discussed within the context of an unambiguous operationalization of homesickness and its effects.

Homesickness has long been considered an adverse effect of the transition to university (Fisher & Cooper, 1990). Although prior research suggests that depression, anxiety, and poor academic performance do indeed result from an educational transition (e.g., Burt, 1993; Lu, 1990; Thurber, 1995; Zimmerman & Bijur, 1995), there have been few studies designed to examine the familial and demographic factors that may predict homesickness.

A theoretical model of homesickness and the effects of change and transition has been formulated by Fisher (1989). Similar to attachment theory, the model suggests that the main reason for stress and homesickness during the transition from home to an new environment is the immediate loss of physical proximity with family and friends. Homesickness is theorized to represent a form of separation anxiety, and family cohesiveness (emotional bonding or dependency between family members) is likely to be reflected in a fewer number of voluntary absences from home. Evidence from descriptive and correlational studies has supported the theorized relationship between previous mobility and family relations (Baier & Welch, 1992; Eurelings-Bontekoe, Vingerhoets, & Fontijn, 1994; Hill, 1996; Smrcek & Stiksrud, 1994). Although several investigations have examined the effects of previous mobility during the transition to university, the relationship between previous mobility and homesickness remains unclear.

An early study by Fisher, Murray, and Frazer (1985) showed that homesickness was predicted by lower levels of responsibility for the decision to make the educational transition, and greater geographical distance from home. Similarly, increased levels of psychological distress have been found among first-year students who had moved from home before the transition to university (Lopez, Campbell, & Watkins, 1988a). More recent work has demonstrated that previous mobility was significantly related to increased homesickness (Fisher, Elder, & Peacock, 1990; Thurber, & Weisz, 1997; Van Tilburg, Vingerhoets, Van Heck, & Kirschbaum, 1996). The effects of previous mobility are likely to be particularly high among individuals who perceive themselves to be highly reliant on their family.

The results obtained by Brewin, Furnham, and Howes (1989) showed that `dependency on others' was a significant predictor of the experience of homesickness. They found that a measure of anxious attachment and greater reliance on others predicted homesickness. However, no research has sought to investigate the relationship between overall family dependency, or cohesiveness, and homesickness. This comes as something of a surprise given the strong empirical support demonstrating the negative effect of family cohesion, on adjustment to university (e.g., Craddock, 1983; Lopez, Campbell, & Watkins, 1986, 1988b).

The main purpose the present investigation, then, was to conduct a study of the relationship between family cohesion and homesickness. Given the negative effect of strong family cohesiveness on successful adaptation to university, it was hypothesized that students with higher levels of family cohesion and previous mobility would have greater levels of homesickness. Since it is still unclear whether there are any age or gender differences in the experience of homesickness (see review Van Tilburg, Vingerhoets, & Van Heck, 1996), the relationships between these factors and homesickness were also considered. …

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