Shippensburg University
Psychology Department

PSI High Newsletter

Volume 27, No. 1
October, 2002


Researchers Investigate Adolescent's Perceptions of Discipline

When does love hurt?

Adolescence is a time of transition in which teenagers typically move toward increasing autonomy. While most parents believe their daughters and sons should be making more decisions on their own, fathers and mothers also have expectations and often impose consequences when those expectations are not met. How do adolescents view such discipline? Does is make a difference whether a teenager is living with two biological parents or with a biological parent and a stepparent? Those questions were investigated by Shippensburg University professor Suzanne Morin and undergraduate psychology majors Carla Milito and Nikki Costlow. They reported on their research at an Eastern Psychological Association meeting in Boston and in a 2001 Adolescence article entitled “Adolescents’ perceptions of discipline within intact families and stepfamilies.”

The researchers created the Adolescent Discipline Perception Survey ­ a questionnaire that asks about various discipline issues. Forty-five teenagers (ages 15 to 19) completed the survey. Fifteen of them lived in stepfamilies and 30 lived in intact families.

There were many similarities shared by participants from intact families with those from stepfamilies. For both groups, the top two reasons for being disciplined related to house rules and peers, and grounding was the top vote-getter as the most severe punishment the participant had received.

With regard to differences between participants from stepfamilies and participants from intact families, the two most pronounced distinctions related to the primary disciplinarian and the worst way to punish an adolescent. Survey respondents from intact families reported the father as the primary disciplinarian 63% of the time, whereas those from stepfamilies reported the biological mother as the primary disciplinarian 57% of the time. When asked to identify the worst way to discipline, 55% of the teenagers from stepfamilies listed excessive verbal punishment (such as nagging and lecturing), whereas only 20% of participants from intact families cited that as a bad way to discipline. (One possibility is that teenagers in stepfamilies become more sensitive to parental lecturing than do adolescents in intact families.)

If lots of verbal criticism is seen as a poor punishment method, what did the participants recommend instead? Both the teenagers from stepfamilies and those from intact families cited loss of privileges as the number one discipline strategy they would use with an adolescent.


For better of for worse

How do parents, peers, and mentors affect 11th graders?

How are problematic behaviors and depression affected by the nature of adolescents’ interactions with parents, friends, and mentors? That was the question investigated by researchers in the Department of Psychology and Social Behavior at the University of California Irvine, as reported in an article entitled “Adolescent problem behavior and depressed mood: Risk and protection within and across social contexts” that appeared in the 2002 volume of the Journal of Youth and Adolescence. Margaret Beam, Virginia Gil-Rivas, Ellen Greenberger, and Chaunsheng Chen recruited survey participants from 11th graders at a Los Angeles area high school; 243 (81%) of the juniors took part in the research.

Problem behaviors examined included risk taking (such as driving while intoxicated and going to dangerous places), academic deviance (such as cheating), substance use (such as smoking marijuana), status violations (such as running away), aggression (such as hitting or threatening to hit a person), vandalism (such as defacing walls), theft (such as shoplifting), and other problematic actions (such as forgery and lying). The participants reported how often they had engaged in these behaviors during the past six months.

Depression was measured via the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale. On that instrument the participants indicated how frequently they had experienced various depressive symptoms during the last month.

The researchers identified risk factors and protective factors within each of the three types of social relationships examined.

Risk factors associated with parents included: not coming from an intact family (living with both biological parents), exposure to potentially distressing events (such as parents arguing, a parent being seriously ill or dying, and a parent losing a job), participant-parent conflict (such as the frequency of disagreements over academics, household tasks, friends, money, habits, and family interactions), problem behaviors displayed by parents (aggression, theft, or substance use in the previous 6 months), problem behaviors displayed by siblings (aggression, theft, or substance use in the previous 6 months), depression in parents, and depression in siblings.

Risk factors associated with peers included: negative events (such as a close friend moving, serious conflict with a close friend, and the loss of a romantic relationship), the frequency of disagreements with peers, the frequency of aggression toward peers, having few friends, problem behaviors displayed by peers (aggression, theft, or substance use in the previous 6 months), and depression in peers.

The mentor was described as a person who was at least 21, who had a powerful influence on the participant or who could be counted on when needed. Among the 243 participants, 198 identified such an individual. About three-quarters of those participants rated the mentor as being either a very important individual or a key person in their lives. Examples included aunts, grandparents, teachers, and older friends. Most of the risk-related items for parents and peers were rewritten to apply to mentors.

Each domain of relationships also had the possibility of contributing protective factors. One area was what the researchers termed perceived sanctions. The survey listed a number of problematic behaviors (such as drinking alcohol frequently) and asked the participants to rate how upset their parents would be and how disapproving their friends and mentors would be in response to them engaging in those behaviors. For parents, another hypothesized protective factor was their warmth, which was evaluated by items that sought to assess how caring and nonjudgmental parents were. For mentors, the participants rated the frequency of both task support (such as providing a place to stay) and emotional support (such as helping the participant think through a situation).

With regard to problem behavior, the investigators found that maladaptive actions were higher among males who had peer and mentor relationships characterized by risk factors. When risk factors were prevalent, lower numbers of problem behaviors were reported by those participants who described their parents and peers as being upset and disapproving in response to such actions.
In terms of depression, reported symptoms were higher among participants who were female and who had parents and peers they perceived to be depressed. Depression was reported less often by participants who viewed their parents as being warm and nonjudgmental.

Perceived disapproval of problematic behaviors by peers was associated with reduced difficulties relating to parents, peers, and mentors. Likewise, perceived disapproval of problematic behaviors by parents and mentors was associated with reduced difficulties relating to peers.

With regard to depressive symptoms, if the family risk for depression was high, parents perceived to be low in warmth were associated with less depression. The authors interpret that finding to mean that in chaotic families, distancing oneself from the chaos resulted in a less reported depression.

In this multifaceted study there are many ways to view the results. One possible conclusion is that parents, friends, and mentors (such as teachers) should speak up when they are troubled by a young person engaging in maladaptive activities. The findings suggest that fewer difficulties develop when teenagers view their parents as upset by such actions and perceive their friends and mentors to be disapproving of problematic behavior.


A Growling Stomach Takes on New Meaning

Can stomachs communicate?

With computer graphics becoming more a part of everyday life, blind persons are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to perceiving such information. Shippensburg University professor Steven Haase and his colleague Kurt Kaczmarek explored some novel ways of remedying that situation in research reported at the Tactile Research
Group Meeting in Orlando, Florida last November. Their study used two grids of electrodes. One was a 24 X 24 grid that participants could run their fingers across andthe other was a 16 X 24 grid that was placed on the person’s abdomen. Brief pulses of weak electrical current resulted in sensations that were perceived as buzzing or vibration.

The accuracy of pattern recognition via the two grids was compared to visual perception of the same scatter plot patterns. The 12 sighted subjects did better with the visual displays of the bitmap images than with either of the tactile grids. (The task was to estimate the degree of correlation in the bitmap image being displayed.) Nevertheless, the researchers describe the perception of the tactile displays as “fairly good.” For most subjects, performance accuracy and reliability with the abdominal grid was slightly better than with the fingertip display. (In other experiments that involved identifying letters or numbers, research subjects had been better at perceiving small pattern details using the fingertip display, but in this experiment the scatter plot was a larger pattern than the letters and numbers in those studies.) Because of the variability among participants in terms of their success under different conditions, the experimenters concluded that performance might be enhanced in a number of ways, including modifying the perceived quality of the electrical stimulation and creating optimal transmission conditions for particular individuals.

Research on the topic is continuing. In the future, though, it is possible that blind computer users will not only have mouse pads, but also stomach pads.


Do we perceive men and women sportscasters differently?

What impressions do young adults have of men and women sportscasters? That is a question recently investigated by a team of researchers that included Shippensburg University professor Jamonn Campbell. Investigators Jeff Kretschmar, Lauren Harlow, Heather Napier, Jamonn Campbell, Christian End, and David Mueller presented their findings at the 2002 meeting of the American Psychological Society in New Orleans.

Thirty-three undergraduate women and 32 undergraduate men listened to identical taped sportscasts. Some participants heard a man’s voice on the tape and others heard a woman’s voice. After listening to the recordings, the undergraduates rated the speaker on several general traits, such as competence and intelligence, and on some specific issues, such as how competent the person was with regard to sports. For the overall traits, ratings were significantly higher for the female speaker. Both men and women participants perceived her to make a better general impression, which involved traits such as being more agreeable, pleasant, competent, and intelligent. When it came to competence specifically related to sports, though, both men and women rated the male speaker as significantly more competent. With regard to how the participants thought the person would be regarded by other sportscasters, there were difference between women and men participants. Ratings by men revealed no significant differences between the two sportscasters, whereas ratings by women were significantly higher for the man than for the woman. In other words, male participants thought gender wouldn’t matter when it came to respect by colleagues, but female participants believed the man would be respected more than the woman.

The results suggest that when we think about men and women in certain professions, our beliefs about gender can have a significant influence on us. Awareness of such tendencies may help us to be alert to times when we need to focus more on the message and less on the messenger.



Editor: Kenneth France, Ph.D.