Effects of Family Origin Dynamics on College Freshmen

By Kissee, James E.; Murphy, Stanley D. et al. | College Student Journal, June 2000 | Go to article overview

Effects of Family Origin Dynamics on College Freshmen


Kissee, James E., Murphy, Stanley D., Bonner, Gloria L., Murley, Laura C., College Student Journal


The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between the young adult's perception of family emotional alliances and the young adults' intimacy development with consideration for gender differences. More specifically, when observing subjects from a variety of family emotional backgrounds, does the individual family of origin perceived emotional alliance impact the ability of subjects to establish intimacy in their own relationships? This study proposed that when family emotional relationships other than the marital relationship are primary, the young adult will experience a negative impact on the level of intimacy achieved in their interpersonal relationships.

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Theorists and researchers have begun to extend their attention to effects of family environment beyond the traditional childhood focus. Human development and systems theories imply that young adults develop from antecedents in earlier life as well as present influences. It is believed that the impact of the family environment for young adults may be significant as well; however, the influences within the young adult cycle of life have gone virtually unstudied (Collins & Read, 1990). The developmental tasks of early adulthood are thought to be particularly vulnerable to family of origin issues (Gecas & Seff, 1990; Kenny & Donaldson, 1991). The current study focused on family environment influences during the development of interpersonal relationships in the early higher education years.

This review presents support from four areas. First, the available literature on higher education was reviewed as a recognized time and place where young adults experience interaction with numerous others of similar age that may affect them developmentally. Secondly, young adult development was considered as an important domain within developmental and life cycle theory. Thirdly, the available research related to intimacy development and intimacy definition were probed because interpersonal development was conceived as important to young adults. And finally, attention was paid to the literature for effects of the family environment on the offspring involved.

Higher Education

The higher education environment brings together young adults whose developmental needs are similar. The developmental needs plus the interactive setting provides a laboratory to study this important life stage. A young adult is the result of a continual state of growth and development, and under suitable conditions, the progress may be without hindrance. However, a variety of life events have been shown to have significant influence on the developmental progression (Daniels, 1990; Grotevant & Cooper, 1986; Lopez, 1991).

Prior to the last decade, there had been little research emphasis placed on the role of family influences and its effect on college students' developmental level. This may have been because the developmental tasks of individuating and gaining autonomy from the family of origin have been the primary research focus for early adulthood. Although higher education has been interested in the effects of college on student development, little is known about the net effect on interpersonal student development from the collegiate view or the family environment view (Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991).

Further, the psychosocial developmental explanation of change has dominated the research on higher education outcomes. Thus, the primary developmental tasks were seen to be separation and autonomy, and prior to the last decade the role of family effects upon college student offspring received little research attention (May & Logan, 1993). Terenzini (1994) suggests the strict, lock step developmental view needs to be challenged because questions of the source of student growth are unanswered as of the present. Intrapersonal and interpersonal development may be socially triggered, may be the result of physical maturation or deterioration, may be from a desire to emulate a significant other, or may be from environmental changes. …

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