Parents of Disabled Children: Personality Traits

By Veisson, Marika | Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, January 1, 2001 | Go to article overview

Parents of Disabled Children: Personality Traits


Veisson, Marika, Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal


In this study 89 mothers and 49 fathers of disabled children were questioned and the results compared with Estonian norms. A five-factor personality inventory in the Estonian language was used. The results showed that mothers of disabled children had significantly lower Extraversion, Openness and higher Neuroticism than the norms for Estonian women. The results demonstrated also that fathers of disabled children were significantly lower in Extraversion and Openness, but significantly higher in Conscientiousness than indicated in the norms for men.

Presently the most influential formulation of individual differences in personality is the "Big Five" trait taxonomy. A number of personality psychologists have proposed that the universe of trait dimensions can be reduced to approximately five bipolar categories (Digman, 1990; Goldberg, 1981, 1993; John, 1990; McCrae & Costa, 1987). McCrae and Costa (1987) identified the five as (1) extraversion-introversion (E), (2) neuroticism (N), (3) openness to experience (0), (4) agreeableness-antagonism (A), and (5) conscientiousness-undirectedness (C). Goldberg's painstaking lexical analyses suggested that these five dimensions were encoded in language (McAdams, 1997). The NEO-PI (Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness - Personality Inventory) (Costa & McCrae, 1985, 1992) is an extension of an earlier three-factor NEO model (neuroticism, extraversion and openness) that now includes the additional Big Five dimensions of Agreeableness and Conscientiousness.

The aim of this study was to find out if there were significant differences in personality traits between parents of disabled children and Estonian norms for the general population.

The situation of mothers of disabled children in Estonia is characterized by a heavy stress load. The societal support for families with disabled children is very limited. Together with rather traditional sex roles, this puts the main responsibility of caring for the family on the mother. This could be expected to show up as a higher degree of neuroticism among the mothers rather than among the fathers.

A number of other studies about personality traits in parents of disabled children have also been carried out. According to Piven, et al. (1994) deficits have been reported in personality functioning among parents of disabled children. Chen et al. (1992) found that mothers of learning disabled children and children with attention deficit disorder and hyperactivity had higher depression, anxiety, and/or neurotic-like personality disorders than did mothers of non-disabled children. Singhi, Goyal, Pershad, Singhi and Walia (1990), found that the neuroticism scores were significantly higher in families with disabled children. According to Ali et al. (1994) parents of mentally retarded children had significantly higher scores only on the Neuroticism scale, indicating that they were more emotionally unstable than the parents of non-disabled children. According to Sloper and Turner (1993) mothers' higher levels of distress were associated with high neuroticism scores, mothers' not working, many unmet needs for help, and financial problems. Fathers' higher levels of distress were associated with high neuroticism scores, lack of a car and poor family relationships. Mothers' good adaptation to the children was associated with low use of wishful thinking as a coping strategy, high extraversion and low neuroticism scores, absence of child communication problems and few unmet needs for help with child-related problems. A related point is the possible theoretical confounding between measures, particularly neuroticism scores and psychological distress. The link between neuroticism and distress is well established and the mechanisms underlying this link have received considerable attention. A significant relationship was the positive association between extraversion scores and maternal adaptation to the child. Positive effect of extraversion on the mother-child relationship has been shown in longitudinal studies of personality, stress and coping. …

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