Normative effects of race and social class on family interaction style

Henggeler, Scott Walter, Department of Psychology , University of Virginia
Tavormina, Joe, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia
Bell, Richard, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia
Gordon, Vivian, African American Studies Program, University of Virginia

Family interaction research has inferred typically that lower class and black family members are at greater psychological risk because their interaction styles differ in a pathological direction from those of middle class and white families. However, two other interpretations are possible. First, there are valid differences in family interaction style across social class and race but they are not related to psychopathology or second, due to methodological difficulties, the findings were subject to sufficient distortion to invalidate them.

To evaluate these interpretations the present study investigated the interaction patterns of 64 family triads divided into eight equal groups (2 x 2 x 2) by race, social class, and sex of adolescent. All family triads met both objective and subjective criteria of psychosocial adjustment and were assessed across a wide variety of non-observational and observational measures of family affect, conflict, and dominance. In contrast to much of the existing literature, statistical analyses revealed few racial or social class effects. This discrepancy was most likely due to several important methodological differences between the present and previous studies. For example, the present study included relevant psychometric and demographic variables as covariates in order to eliminate the variance they contributed to dependent measures.

The results of the present study suggest that prior research findings were a function of methodological difficulties rather than actual race or social class differences. Future research should evaluate the effects of other important psychometric and demographic variables on interaction patterns within well-adjusted families. Such information will provide a normative data base from which the interaction styles of well-adjusted and disturbed families may be compared more validly.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Families, Interpersonal relations, African American families
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