An Empirical Investigation of the Construct of Personality Authority in Late Adolescent Women and Their Level of College Adjustment

By Protinsky, Howard; Gilkey, Joyce Katherine | Adolescence, Summer 1996 | Go to article overview

An Empirical Investigation of the Construct of Personality Authority in Late Adolescent Women and Their Level of College Adjustment


Protinsky, Howard, Gilkey, Joyce Katherine, Adolescence


Few studies to date have explored the theoretical concepts of inter-generational family influences on the adjustment of late adolescents in the college setting. The process of leaving home and beginning life on one's own is thought to be potentially stressful for both the family and the young adult. The purpose of this study was to investigate the perceptions late adolescent college women have of their relationships with their parents, their perceived levels of individuation, and how these perceptions are related to their adjustment to college life. Specifically, the concepts of individuation, triangulation, intimacy, intimidation, and personal authority were assessed as to their relationship to the following features of college adjustment: grade point average, health complaints, perceived health, self-esteem, frequency of contact, and an overall measure of college adjustment.

To explain the notion of the individuated self, theoretical premises from the theory of Murray Bowen were used. Fusion, the polar opposite of individuation, is viewed as the blurring or merging of personal boundaries between two persons (Bowen, 1978). In such relationships, personal pursuits are deferred to the maintenance of a dyadic relationship. Similarly, triangulation occurs when one person (usually a child) serves as the target for unresolved tensions of the marital dyad. Both triangulation and fusion are theorized as inhibitors of self-directed activity (individuation) and promote the appearance of symptomology in the targeted offspring (Bowen, 1978). Intergenerational intimidation refers to the willingness of the offspring to be moved toward action that is deemed appropriate by one or both parents. In all three theoretical constructs, the late adolescent's actions are based on the need for parental approval; in addition, parental actions may be viewed as threatening to the late adolescent, while simultaneously offering a compass for the young person's action.

In contrast to fusion and triangulation, individuation refers to the process of using rational thinking as the basis for personal decision-making. Likewise, personal authority refers to the choice of one's own well-being over the subtle and direct mandates of significant others. In both processes, the individual retains a sense of identity and sees the "self" as able to make appropriate decisions and choose when to state opinions without fear of threat from significant others. From this sense of identity, the late adolescent feels free to engage in or decline intimate relationships. Similarly, intergenerational intimacy refers to the voluntary closeness of two persons without the merging of personal boundaries (Bray, Williamson, & Malone, 1984).

Taken together, the concepts of individuation, triangulation, intimacy, intimidation, and personal authority offer a view of an individual's ability to direct her own life, minimizing the dictates of others as the rationale for decision-making. In this study, these five concepts combined to form a measure of Personal Authority.

It was hypothesized that young women who perceived themselves as having a high sense of Personal Authority would also fare better in perceived college adjustment, self-esteem, and grade point average, and would report fewer health problems. More specifically, those students who reported a higher score on triangulation or intimidation would also report lower scores on college adjustment, self-esteem, grade point average, and higher frequency of health problems. It was also hypothesized that better college adjustment could be explained by higher scores in Personal Authority, self-esteem, grade point average, and lower frequency of health problems. Finally, it was thought that there would be no difference in scores on college adjustment, Personal Authority, self-esteem, grade point average, or health problems that could be attributed to grade level.

Sample

Subjects consisted of a randomly selected group of 102 female students from each of four grade levels in a small private college in southwest Virginia. …

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