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Is Parental Guilt-Proneness Associated with Parental Levels of Expressed Emotion towards Adolescents?

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Abstract

Past research has highlighted an association between the personality trait of guilt-proneness and level of expressed emotion (EE). Whilst this association seems apparent, the association between parental guilt-proneness and parental EE has been left understudied. The present study aims to build on current literature by examining the association between parental guilt-proneness and parental EE towards adolescents. A total of 116 parents with children aged 12-17 years completed questionnaires measuring parental guilt-proneness and their level of expressed emotion towards adolescents. Inconsistent with previous research, the current study found that increased parental guilt-proneness was associated with lower parental expressed emotion towards adolescents. The implications and suggestions for future research are discussed.

Expressed emotion (EE) refers to a measure of the emotional climate at home including criticism and emotional over-involvement (Brown, Birley & Wing, 1972; Brown & Rutter, 1966). It has been documented as a useful way to assess the emotional health of families including important aspects such as relationships and parenting attitudes (Rienecke et al, 2016). More recently, studies have specifically examined the role of parental EE- defined as critical, hostile and/or emotionally overinvolved attitudes toward their offspring (Ellis et al 2014), and its effects on their development, with a growing interest in research into the effects it has on child and adolescent well-being (Wamboldt, 2000). Whilst there is robust evidence illustrating the negative effect of high parental EE on children and adolescents’ development (Peris & Miklowitz, 2015), there is a lack of focus investigating the factors which contribute to the development and maintenance of high parental EE such as specific parental characteristics including guilt-proneness. Therefore, this study aims to address this lack of focus by investigating the association between parental guilt-proneness and parental EE towards adolescents.

Research has shown that parents with high EE express more hostility, make more critical comments, and/or engage in overprotection or self-sacrifice (emotional over-involvement) (Rienecke et al, 2016). With these high levels of parental criticism on the EE measure thought to contribute to issues in parent-child interactions (McCarty et al, 2004). This well-established evidence has indicated that parents with high EE are a risk factor for emotional and behavioural problems in their offspring (Psychogiou et al, 2007) and therefore predicts the onset and development of their disorder (Wamboldt & Wamboldt 2000). Contrastingly, low parental EE has been associated with the absence of psychopathology and a more functional family environment (Hibbs et al, 1993). This is supported by research conducted by Stubbe, Zahner, Goldstein, and Leckman (1993) who found that children with high EE mothers were five times more likely to have any psychiatric diagnosis than children with low EE mothers and has shown to be linked to the onset and course of depression in children and adolescents (Fristad, Gavazzi, Centolella & Soldano, 1996). Thus, EE is a valuable predictor of the course of psychiatric disorders for children and adolescents and in their later life such as physical illness and health behaviour (Butzlaff & Hooley, 1998). This stresses the importance of research investigating the factors which are associated with the development and maintenance of high parental EE due to the negative effects it has on child and adolescents’ development.

There is some evidence to suggest that parental psychopathology is an important predictor in parental EE. Findings show that maternal depression correlates with EE and that both maternal EE and depression can in combination predict outcomes in children and adolescents (Barnes et al. 2007; Tompson et al. 2010). Alternatively, evidence indicates that parental EE also can reflect disturbances in the organisation and emotional climate of the entire family system despite when only measured in a single parent (Miklowitz, 2004). St John-Seed and Weiss (2005) found that mothers were less critical and more positive towards their 6-month-old offspring if they were more content with their family relationships. This has been further supported by evidence indicating an association between difficulties in marital relationships in the postnatal period and high EE towards the offspring (Psychogiou, Netsi, Sethna & Ramchandani, 2012). This not only highlights the importance of this as an issue of psychological research (Gerlsma & Hale, 1997; Kavangah, 1992) but also indicates that parental EE may not just reflect the individual parent but also the climate of the family and home.

It must also be noted that parental EE can also be a characteristic of the parent (i.e., a trait) or a parental response to specific circumstances or to the child (i.e., state) (Psychogiou, Daley, Thompson, & Sonuga-Barke, 2007). Therefore, it is important for research to investigate the characteristics of parents but also how parents treat their child on a day-to-day basis, in its association to the development and maintenance of parental EE. One parental characteristic that has received little interest in its association with parental EE, is guilt. Guilt refers to involving feelings of remorse or regret, leading people to make amends for their behaviour (Tangey, 1998) and is thought to be caused by the reaction of one’s internalized conscience to a breach of one’s own standards (Tangey et al, 1996) Specifically, research has looked at guilt as a personality trait, referring to guilt-proneness. Guilt-proneness refers to the “predisposition to experience negative feelings about personal wrongdoing, even when the wrongdoing is private.” Further, it is characterized by “the anticipation of feeling bad about committing transgressions rather than by guilty feelings in a particular moment or generalized guilty feelings that occur without an eliciting event” (Cohen, Panter & Turan, 2012, p.355).  As guilt-proneness is a personality trait which occurs on a continuum, this indicates that some parents are predisposed to be more guilt-prone than others. While normative feelings of guilt as a parent are viewed as adaptive, thought to motivate prosocial and reparative behaviours as well as facilitate empathy in an attempt to alleviate feelings of responsibility for others’ distress (Tangey and Tracey, 2012). For some parents, these feelings of guilt are excessive, in which they have a distorted sense of guilt for events that occur of their control, or when reparation is not possible for a behaviour (Tangey and Tracy, 2012). As such, this experience of feeling overly guilty has been associated with the development and maintenance of the emotional over-involvement aspect of EE (Cherry et al, 2017).  This indicates that these parents who are predisposed to experiencing more feelings of guilt than others, may be associated with higher parental EE, consequently shown to be maladaptive in parent-child relationships. Indeed, Bentsen et al (1998) conducted the first study on guilt-proneness as a predictor of expressed emotion. They found that high levels of guilt-proneness, or a tendency to engage in self-blame, were positively associated with the emotional over-involvement component of EE. Whilst they exclusively investigated relatives’ EE towards a family member hospitalized with schizophrenia, they concluded that guilt-proneness is a personality trait which should be taken into account when aiming to modify individual’s expressed emotions. Further concluding that guilt-proneness is a determinant of a relative’s criticism, hostility and emotional over-involvement towards another family member. This is supported by Hatfield (1981) who suggested that high EE is the consequence of guilt. Hatfield (1981) suggested guilt promotes reparative behaviours in which individuals who feel overly blameworthy often use over-involvement or sacrificing behaviour in the attempt to mend behaviours and events for which they feel guilty. Altogether, this research suggests that some parents are prone to experiencing higher levels of guilt than others. As guilt-proneness is a personality trait shown to be a determinant of an individual’s level of expressed emotions, specifically emotional over-involvement towards another family member. This advocates that guilt-prone parents are more likely to be associated with higher levels of EE, which has shown to be damaging in parent-child relationships (McCarty et al, 2004). As this association has, to our knowledge, never been directly investigated, this illustrates the importance of the present study in addressing this lack of focus due to the damaging effects that high parental EE has on children and adolescents.

As previous literature indicates that guilt-proneness contributes to high levels of parental EE, it is therefore important to understand what produces these feelings of parental guilt. Research has explored many reasons as to why parents experience feelings of guilt such as their offspring being born with a disability or feeling a lack of control over their offspring’s behaviour. Wigert, Johansson, Berg & Hellström (2006) conducted interviews of mothers with new-born children finding that their offspring is born premature or sick, the parents experiences excessive feelings of guilt and shame. Further supported by research by Gray (1994) who highlighted that parents experience emotional stress, fear and guilt if their offspring is born with disabilities such as autism.

Research has also shown that parents may experience guilt as a result of their children’s misbehaviour. Scarnier, Schmader and Lickel (2009) asked parents to complete a questionnaire about their child’s worst transgressions and rate their perceived public exposure, lack of control, threat to their self-image as well as the degree to which they believed the transgression harmed others. The results indicated that both the severity of harm to others and parents’ perception that they had not implemented normative control over the child’s behaviour predicted variance in the feelings of parental guilt. Further, it was recognised that this experience of guilt predicted how parents react to their children’s misdeeds and their preference of parenting strategies in response to their child’s behaviour. The researchers concluded that parental guilt has important practical implications for the quality of parenting behaviour. With evidence to suggest that whether the parent experiences normative or chronic guilt predicts whether the parents utilise adaptive or maladaptive parenting practices with the aim to rectify the damages their offspring has caused. It is plausible that it is these parents who experience chronic guilt and utilise maladaptive parenting practices which are associated with higher parental EE. This emphasises the importance in research pursuing the association of parental guilt and parental EE in addressing whether parental guilt predicts parental EE due to its association with maladaptive parenting behaviour.

Parent’s feelings of guilt have shown to have a negative relationship with positive parenting behaviour and a positive relationship with negative parenting behaviour (Park, 2012). Evidence indicates that parents who experience chronic and exaggerated feelings of guilt are more likely to use maladaptive parenting strategies such as guilt induction, plausibly contributing to higher parental EE (Lovejoy et al, 2000). This maladaptive use of guilt induction has been defined as when parents direct an inappropriate amount of responsibility or blame towards their child whilst frequently emphasising declarations of disappointment over their misdeeds (Donatelli et al, 2007). Further, exaggerated parental guilt has also been associated with negative parenting behaviours related with too much leniency but also being too strict and over-controlling (Mott, 2017). In contrast, parents who experience normative amounts of guilt, but not chronic, have been associated with the use of more beneficial parenting strategies such as scaffolding and teaching their children about the relationship between actions and negative outcomes (Rote, 2014). This could indicate that parental guilt, but not chronic parental guilt, is associated with beneficial parenting strategies and thus contributes to lower parental EE. Whereas parents who experience excessive feelings of guilt predicts the adoption of maladaptive parenting strategies, conceivably contributing to the poor emotional quality of parent-child relationships. This stresses the need of more research understanding the association between parental guilt and parental EE so more solid conclusions can be drawn, as previous literature suggests parental guilt may contribute to higher parental EE due to its association to maladaptive parenting strategies and behaviours.

The current study will focus on the period of adolescence. Adolescence is a serious omission in the years for individuals as it is a period of important physical, social and emotional development, and brain maturation (Paus, 2005; Gowers, 2005). Research indicates that adolescents are still very much dependent on their parents and thus are particularly vulnerable to the negative influences of an unhealthy family environment (Asarnow, 2001). With further support from research by Weintraub and Wamboldt (1996) to suggest that adolescents are extremely vulnerable to the damaging effects of high parental EE. Thus, this illustrates the importance of research into the factors which contribute to the maintenance and development of parental EE towards adolescents, due to the well-established negative effects of high parental EE on adolescents’ outcomes and well-being.

The current study aims to investigate the association between parental guilt-proneness and levels of parental expressed emotion towards adolescents (aged 12-17) by measuring parental guilt-proneness using the Guilt and Shame-Proneness Scale (GASP) (REFERENCE) and parental EE using the Level of Expressed Emotion Scale (LEE) (REFERENCE). To our knowledge, no study has yet explored this association; thus, the research aims to provide a more conclusive view of this relationship.  If empirical evidence supports the theorised links between parental guilt-proneness and components of parental EE, then potential targets for future interventions could be sought (Gilbert & Irons, 2005).

Additionally, there is well-established evidence illustrating that parental depressive symptoms contribute to high EE (Mccleary  & Sanford, 2002). Thus, we will control for this to ensure that we can confidently conclude that the parental characteristic of guilt-proneness is solely associated with parental EE.

Based on previous findings it is hypothesised that: Parents who show higher levels of guilt-proneness will report significantly higher levels of expressed emotion towards adolescents.

 

Method

Participants

126 parents of adolescents aged 12-17 were recruited by researchers through personal contacts, internet advertising via websites such as mumsnet.co.uk and Facebook as well as adverts placed in local community centres, libraries and cafes (see Appendix A). The inclusion criteria were parents of adolescents aged 12-17. Due to some parents’ children not meeting the age criteria, 10 parents’ data were excluded from the research. Therefore, the research had a total of 116 parents. A summary of participant demographic information is detailed in Table 1.

 

Design

This research adopted a non-experimental cross-sectional design utilising an online survey.  The outcome variable was the parental level of expressed emotion towards their adolescents. The predictor variable was parental guilt-proneness.

Measures

Parental Guilt-Proneness.The survey measured parental guilt-proneness using the Guilt and Shame-Proneness Scale (GASP) (Cohen, Wolf, Panter, & Insko, 2011) (see Appendix B). This consisted of 8-items indicating the likelihood of which parents think they would react to the everyday situations described. Four of these measure Guilt-Negative Behaviour Evaluations, for example “After realizing you have received too much change at a store, you decide to keep it because the salesclerk doesn’t notice. What is the likelihood that you would feel uncomfortable about keeping the money?”. The responder then had to indicate their reaction on a 7-point Likert scale with 1 being ‘Very Unlikely’ to 7 being ‘Very Likely’, with higher scores indicating a higher likelihood of guilt. The other four items measured Guilt-Repair. However, as a result of a technical problem one of the items within the Guilt-Repair subscale was not included in the online questionnaire. This item was “You strongly defend a point of view in a discussion, and though nobody was aware of it, you realize that you were wrong. What is the likelihood that this would make you think more carefully before you speak?”. Therefore, our scale contained 7-items altogether.

A Likert scale of 1-7 (1= very unlikely, 7= very likely) was used to measure the likelihood and the averages of ratings of each subscale were summed to calculate an overall guilt-proneness score.

The GASP scale has good internal reliability. The benchmark on the test quality parameter is set on .60 of each subscale and the subscale has shown to be reliable (Cronbach’s α = .69; Cohen et al., 2011). This research had an acceptable internal reliability of α= 0.775.

 

Parental expressed emotion towards adolescents. The survey also included items of the Level of Expressed Emotion (LEE) scale (Hale et al, 2011), assessing parental expressed emotion towards adolescents (see Appendix C). The LEE scale is 46-items consisting of five factors measuring expressed emotion. These factors are: lack of emotional support (LES) (19 items), intrusiveness (IN) (7 items), irritation (IR) (7 items), criticism (C) (5 items) and positive criticism (PC) (8 items). Each item was scored on a scale from 1 to 4 (1=untrue, 2= somewhat untrue, 3= somewhat true, 4= true). The total score of the 46-items gave an overall ‘level of expressed emotion’ (LEE).

The LEE scale has good internal reliability, with a Cronbach’s alpha of α = .93 (Hale, Raaijmakers, Gerlsma & Meeus, 2007). In the study the internal reliability was high (α = .855).

 

Parental depressive symptoms. The survey included items from The Patient Health Questionnaire-2 (PHQ-2) (Kroenke, Spitzer, Williams, 2003) (see Appendix D).  This measured and controlled for parental depressive symptoms, to illustrate that it is the parental characteristic of guilt-proneness that is associated with the level of expressed emotion towards adolescents. The questionnaire consists of two items including “Over the past 2 weeks, how often have you been bothered by any of the following problems? 1. Little interest or pleasure in doing things (0= Not at all, 3 =Nearly every day) and 2. Feeling down, depressed or hopeless (0=Not at all, 3=Nearly every day).  The total score was summed, with depression severity increasing from 0 to 6.

This scale has shown good previous internal reliability, α=0.76 (Yu, Stewart, Wong & Lam, 2011). This research had a moderate internal reliability of α =0. 545.

Procedure

Ethics approval was obtained through an Online Ethics Application System from the University of Exeter and was granted on 15/01/2018 (see Appendix E). The online study was created using CLES Survey systems and was accessed via a hyperlink. The study ran from 23/01/2018 to 13/03/2018.

Parents completed the study using CLES Survey System software. Participants were told that the study would take 10 to 15 minutes regarding parental emotion. They provided informed consent (Appendix F) before proceeding to answer demographic questions about themselves and their child, this included the parents gender, age and educational level and also the child’s age (see Appendix G). The participants then completed the following scales. Within the survey, we also measured the parental characteristics of shame and hope, however, this research focussed purely on the parental characteristic of guilt-proneness in its association with parental level of expressed emotion towards adolescents. Participants were finally thanked, debriefed and explained the aims of the study and how the results could help better understand parent-child relationships in the future. We also provided links for mental health support such as Samaritans at the end of the survey if any of the content of the questionnaire raised any concerns for the parents or they wanted more information on any of the issues raised (see Appendix H).

 

Results

 

Data Sorting

The data was exported from ‘LimeSurvey’ to Microsoft Excel to sort the data before transferring it to SPSS. Raw data was coded into numerical values according to the coding provided in the original questionnaire manuals. As the education variable was nominal, we coded education as parents with no degree as 0 and parents with a degree as 1. Prior to our main analysis, all variables were checked for missing values and violations of normality assumptions. The tests of normality revealed that the LEE and PHQ-2 scales were of normal distribution. However, the GASP Scale was not of normal distribution. After completing a transformation of the data, it was found that the scale was still not of normal distribution. Therefore, we decided to perform our analysis both on the raw set of data and the transformed data, finding that there were no significant differences in the outcomes. Thus, our results below are based on the raw data set. Table 1 presents participant’s characteristics.

 

Table 1; Summary of Participant Characteristics

 

Analytic Strategy       

As our data was not normally distributed, we used Spearman’s rho correlation analysis. A Spearman’s rho correlation analysis was run to examine the association between parental guilt-proneness and parental EE towards adolescents along with all the study variables.

Six hierarchical linear regression analyses were conducted. The first was to identify whether parental guilt-proneness was a significant predictor of LEE after controlling for the demographic variables of parent’s level of education, gender, child age as well as parental depressive symptoms. An enter procedure was carried out with the demographic variables and parental depressive symptoms being inputted in the first step and parental guilt-proneness score was entered separately at the second step.

The further five regression analyses were conducted to identify whether parental guilt-proneness is a significant predictor of the five individual subscales of LEE after controlling for the demographic variables of parent’s level of education, gender, child age as well as parent depressive symptoms. Keeping the same predictors, we replaced the outcome variable to the individual subscale of LEE in each new analysis. An alpha level of .05 was utilised for all statistical tests.

Correlations

Contrary to predictions, correlation analysis failed to provide statistically significant support for the hypothesis. In contrast, it was found that parental guilt-proneness scores on the GASP scale was significantly negatively associated with parental EE towards adolescents scored on the LEE scale, r(114)= -.20, p<.03, with higher levels of parental guilt-proneness associated with lower levels of parental EE towards adolescents.

There were no significant demographic variables which correlated with parental LEE. Although, there was a significant positive correlation between parental depressive symptoms and parental LEE towards adolescents, r(114)=.41, p<.00, with higher levels of parental depressive symptoms being associated with greater EE. A summary of correlations between study variables is provided in Table 2.

There was a significant negative correlation between parental guilt-proneness and the lack of emotional support (LES) subscale of LEE, r(114)=.25, p<.01 and a significant negative correlation between parental guilt and the criticism (C) subscale of LEE, r(114)=.21, p<.02, with higher levels of parental guilt-proneness associated with lower levels of parental lack of emotional support and parental criticism. Parental guilt-proneness was not significantly correlated with any of the three other subscales of irritability, intrusiveness or positive criticism. A summary of correlations between these variables is provided in Table 2.

There was a significant negative correlation between the subscale of guilt-repair and parental EE, r(114)=.20, p<.03. There was also a significant negative correlation between the subscale of guilt-negative behaviour evaluations and parental EE, r(114)=.28, p<.01, indicating that both higher scores of guilt-repair and guilt-negative behaviour evaluations is associated with lower scores of parental EE. A summary of correlations between these variables is provided in Table 2.

Table 2; Association between all the study variables

Hierarchal Regression Analyses

Parental guilt-proneness was a significant predictor of parental EE when controlling for the demographic variables, with parental guilt-proneness accounting for 25% of the variance in parental EE (R2=.29 R2adj =.25) F(5,111)= 7.40 p<.00) (Table 5). Inconsistent with our hypothesis, although significant, this analysis indicated that higher levels of parental guilt-proneness were associated with lower levels of parental EE towards adolescents. It also indicated that parental depressive symptoms, b=.41 t(115)= 5.02 p<.00) was a significant predictor of parental EE, indicating that higher levels of parental depressive symptoms were associated with higher levels of parental EE towards adolescents A summary of the results is provided in Table 5.

Table 5; Summary of Hierarchical Regression Analyses of parental guilt-proneness and study variables predicting parental level of expressed emotion towards adolescents

Parental guilt-proneness was significantly associated with the LEE subscales of lack of emotional support (F(5,111)= 6.41 p<.00)  (R2=.26 R2adj =.22) (Table 6), irritability (F(5,111)= 4.50 p<.03) (R2=.20 R2adj =.15) (Table 7), criticism (F(5, 111)= 5.52 p<.00) (R2=.23 R2adj =.19) (Table 8) showing support for our hypothesis.

Table 6; Summary of Hierarchical Regression Analyses of parental guilt-proneness and study variables predicting lack of emotional support subscale of LEE

Table 7Summary of Hierarchical Regression Analyses of parental guilt-proneness and study variables predicting irritability subscale of LEE

 

 

Table 8; Summary of Hierarchical Regression Analyses of parental guilt-proneness and study variables predicting criticism subscale of LEE

There was non-significant associations with parental guilt-proneness and the subscales of intrusiveness (F(5,111)= 3.03 p<.65)  (R2=.14 R2adj =.10 (Table 9) and positive criticism (F(5,111)= 1.85 p<.10) (R2=.09 R2adj =.0.4) (Table 10), showing lack of support for our hypothesis. With these subscales, parental guilt-proneness only accounts for 10% of the variance in intrusiveness and 4% of the variance in positive criticism. These regressions also found that parental depressive symptoms were significantly associated with the subscales of lack of emotional support, irritability, intrusiveness and criticism but not positive criticism.

 

Table 9; Summary of Hierarchical Regression Analyses of parental guilt-proneness and study variables predicting intrusiveness subscale of LEE

 

Table 10; Summary of Hierarchical Regression Analyses of parental guilt-proneness and study variables predicting positive criticism subscale of LEE

 

 

Discussion

 

Interpretation of Results

The present study aimed to investigate the association between parental guilt-proneness and parental level of expressed emotion towards adolescents. It was hypothesised that parents who show higher levels of guilt-proneness will report significantly higher levels of EE towards adolescents. Whilst the results were supported by significant findings, a negative correlation was found, thus rejecting our hypothesis. The results instead indicated that parents who show higher levels of guilt-proneness, reported significantly lower levels of EE towards adolescents.

The results of this research contradict previous literature which demonstrates that guilt-proneness is a personality trait associated with higher levels of EE (Bentsen et al, 1998). Indeed, evidence has shown that the personality trait of guilt-proneness is a determinant of a relative’s criticism, hostility and emotional over-involvement towards another family member. Therefore, making the findings of this research surprising but also presenting a new basis for further analysis.

There are several explanations which appear tenable for explaining these unexpected results. Previous research has associated the experience of parental guilt with parental motivation, in an attempt to make changes and also a way to make the child they have let down feel between and can help heal the relationship (Smith, 2011). In this respect, it is plausible that these benefits of having higher levels of parental guilt-proneness which contribute to lower levels of parental EE towards their offspring and a more positive emotional quality of parent-child relationships. Smith (2011) expanded this by suggesting that parental guilt is a sign of love, strong attachment and commitment to do the best parents can do to raise healthy children. This literature, therefore, provides an alternative explanation for understanding the results of this study. It suggests that parental guilt-proneness is associated with positive parenting behaviour and hence contributes to lower parental EE towards their offspring and a more positive emotional quality of parent-child relationships.

Additionally, previous research has illustrated that feelings of parental guilt have been associated with beneficial parenting practices such as teaching their children about the relationship between actions and negative outcomes Baumrind, 1971). This is supported by Scarnier, Schmader and Lickel (2006) who suggested that parental guilt tends to predict more adaptive, reparative parenting strategies such as having the goal of helping their child build stronger social relations by understanding why their behaviour was wrong. It is therefore plausible that greater parental guilt-proneness is associated with lower parental EE towards their offspring, through its association with more positive parenting styles. This could reflect the negative association found in the results of this research in which greater parental guilt-proneness is associated with a more positive emotional quality of parent-child relationships (lower parental EE).

One must also note that there may be other facets that mediate the associations between parental guilt-proneness and parental EE towards adolescents. Previous research has illustrated that parental anger is associated and has strong links with parental guilt. Indeed, Mills (2005) suggested that both shame and guilt are closely related to anger which occurs in response to an interference with a goal which wounds the self. This is supported by research conducted by Scarnier, Schmader and Lickel (2009) investigating the extent to which parental guilt predicted adaptive or maladaptive parenting responses. Within this research, it was found that parental guilt was moderately but significantly related to parental anger. Further suggesting that parental guilt and parental anger have a unique relationship in predicting parent’s responses to children’s behaviour. Therefore, the presence of parental anger may also have been a factor involved in the complex interaction of parental guilt-proneness and parental EE towards adolescents. Vitally this factor was not accounted for during our analyses. It is therefore suggested that new lines of investigation need to be undertaken to measure whether parental anger is also a significant factor affecting the interaction between parental guilt-proneness and parental EE. Consequently, illustrating that it may be important to control for parental anger when investigating the association between parental guilt-proneness and parental EE in future research.

Finally, also inconsistent with our hypothesis is the finding that parental guilt-proneness was a significant predictor for only three out of the five subscales of LEE, as illustrated by our regression analyses. The results showed that parental guilt-proneness was a significant predictor of the lack of emotional support, irritability and criticism subscales of LEE, but not intrusiveness or positive criticism. Whilst this initially is surprising, it is plausible that this could be partially explained by the methodological limitations of this research. Within this study, due to a technical issue, an item was missed from the GASP scale measuring parental guilt-proneness. This may have impacted these particular subscales of the LEE scale, thus partially explaining this discrepancy. Alternatively, research by Gerlsma et al (1992) conducted a factor analysis of the LEE Scale concluding that the subscales of LES, criticism and irritability were of good internal consistency, whereas this did not correspond with the other subscales. Therefore, it is plausible that methodological limitations within this study as well as previous research highlighting poor internal consistency in certain subscales of the LEE Scale could account for why parental guilt-proneness was not a significant predictor of all LEE subscales within this research. Therefore, in future it would be interesting to see if parental guilt-proneness is a significant predictor of all LEE subscales when all GASP items are included in the questionnaire.

Altogether, future research is essential to investigate the association between parental guilt-proneness and parental EE so more solid conclusions about the relationship can be drawn.

Implications

Our study is novel in the fact that it is the first piece of research, to our knowledge, highlighting a significant association between parental guilt-proneness and parental EE towards adolescents. Additionally, understanding how parental guilt-proneness is associated with parental EE towards adolescents and how this impacts their development is critical for interventions. Whilst the results of this research were surprising, the study raises practical implications for parents by suggesting that experiencing feelings of parental guilt could be beneficial for the emotional quality of parent-child relationships. By looking at the results of this research in conjunction with previous literature, evidence suggests that parental guilt can predict lower parental EE in the sense that it related to positive parenting practices such as scaffolding and teaching their children about relationships between actions and negative outcomes, as well as a sign of love, strong attachment and commitment of parents doing the best they can to raise healthy children (Smith, 2011). Further, the results provide useful applications for future research and interventions. Scarnier et al (2009) suggested that programs could be designed to promote more positive models of parenting considering interventions aimed at changing parents’ emotional responses to their children’s behaviour by changing how they appraise those behaviours. For example, teaching parents to appraise their child’s actions not as a mark of shame but as an opportunity to instil moral values could be an effective way to promote guilt and foster a more inductive style of parenting. Thus, a potentially useful application of these results is to develop interventions designed to translate parental guilt into the adoption of beneficial parenting strategies and behaviour, consequently promoting the development and maintenance of low parental EE.

Strengths, Weaknesses and Future Research

A main strength of the current study is the focus on the years of adolescence. Much of the research investigating parental EE has mainly focussed on children of a younger age. Thus, a strength of this present research is that it addresses the lack of focus on the years of adolescence. It is important to investigate adolescence as it is a period of important physical, social and emotional development, and brain maturation (Paus, 2005; Gowers, 2005). Further, research indicates that adolescents are extremely vulnerable to the damaging effects of high parental EE (Weintraub and Wamboldt, 1996). Therefore, as adolescents are particularly vulnerable to the effects of parental EE, it is essential to understand what factors contribute to the development and maintenance of parental EE, highlighting the importance of this research. However, a limitation of this research is that it exclusively focuses on the period of adolescence, henceforth the findings may not apply to parents of younger children. Previous research has shown parents feel more responsibility to control younger children, parental guilt may play a more prominent role in responses to younger children’s wrongdoings, whereas it may take a backseat to shame when children enter into adolescence and their personality characteristics are seen as more fixed (Scarnier et al, 2009). Therefore, variations in parental guilt due to their child’s age may reflect variations in levels of parental EE towards their child. This could limit the generalisability of our findings to parents who have children of a younger age.

Despite its strengths, the current study has several methodological limitations that warrant further discussion. The sample used may limit the generalisability of the findings as demographic information shows that the study did not achieve equal numbers of mothers and fathers. This could be an issue as previous literature shows that both mothers and fathers have qualitative differences in the experience of guilt-proneness. Indeed, Katchadourian (2010) argues there are gender differences in adult guilt-proneness in which women are more likely to be guilt prone than men. Katchadourian (2010) explained this by the fact that women are brought up to me more sensitive to other’s well-being and feelings and women are more likely to be distressed and to express concern for a person than a man. Thus, as there are qualitative differences in the experience of guilt between males and females and the fact that more mothers were used within this research, it could suggest that the results do not reflect paternal guilt and its association with paternal EE towards adolescents. Further, studies also show that culture may affect guilt-proneness (Wong, 2003). It is likely that the parents who participated in the current research were predominantly British parents, leaving open the question of whether our findings apply to parents from different cultures. Anolli and Pascucci (2005) investigated the experiences of shame and guilt-proneness in Indian and Italian adults. Through the administration of questionnaires, the researchers found that Indian participants appeared to be more sensitive to both guilt and shame, concluding that there are basic distinctions between Eastern and Western cultures in guilt and shame-proneness. This indicates that parents in certain cultures are more guilt-prone than others, thus it is plausible that parental guilt-proneness is contingent on cultural differences. Altogether, the results from this research lack generalisability regarding its applications to fathers but also cross-culturally. It is therefore essential that replication of this study is conducted using a broad, diverse sample, with equal numbers of mothers and fathers so more generalisable results and solid conclusions can be drawn from the association between parental guilt-proneness and parental EE.

Additionally, the cross-sectional design of this study means conclusions about the direction of effects cannot be reached. In the study, parental guilt-proneness and parental EE towards adolescents were measured concurrently, preventing claims about directionality. There is a possibility that parental EE contributes to parental guilt, rather than the reverse. Furthermore, parental guilt-proneness may change over time. Indeed, research indicates that worries about children lead to fluctuations in parental personality (Aken, Denissen, Branje, Dubas & Goossens, 2006). Thus, it is plausible that parental guilt-proneness alters overtime. In order to establish causality effects, future research should use alternative methods of investigation, utilising longitudinal analysis to verify the direction of effects.

Summary

Overall, even with the methodological limitations of this study, the present study provides a useful insight into the association between parental guilt-proneness and parental EE towards adolescents. Despite contradicting the hypothesis and what previous research suggests we would find; the study produces novel findings indicating that parental guilt-proneness is significantly negatively associated with parental EE towards adolescents. With further supporting research, this could have implications for interventions focussing on the development and maintenance of lower parental EE, through translating parental guilt-proneness into beneficial parenting strategies and behaviour. Further, as to our knowledge, no previous research has investigated this association, the present study, therefore,



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