Shippensburg University
Psychology Department

Psi High Newsletter

October, 2005
Volume 30, No. 1


How do good relationships develop?

There are factors related to both individuals and couples

What sort of people seem better able to develop successful relationships? How are they able to do it? Answers to those questions are provided by a 2004 Eastern Psychological Association presentation by former Shippensburg University undergraduate psychology major Lindsey Rodgers and Shippensburg University psychology professor Scott Madey. In “The Effect of Attachment Style and Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love on Relationship Satisfaction” they examined how good relationships come about.
The investigators recruited 55 college students who were in steady relationships. The research participants responded to items on the Sternberg Triangular Theory of Love Scale that dealt with relationship characteristics related to passion, commitment, and intimacy. The students rated the quality of their current relationship on a 10-item questionnaire devised by the authors. The participants also took the Relationship Scales Questionnaire that measures typical styles individuals display in close relationships. One of those styles is secure attachment. Being ready to develop secure attachments means we are prepared to trust in the ability of others to meet our needs and in our ability to meet their needs, while at the same time accepting that their needs may differ from ours.
There was a significant correlation (.48) between having a predisposition to develop secure (rather than insecure) attachments and relationship satisfaction. Such satisfaction was also significantly correlated with Sternberg’s components of passion (.62), commitment (.79), and intimacy (.82). When the researchers controlled for Sternberg’s three components, the correlation between a secure attachment style and relationship satisfaction was no longer significant. Consequently, the investigators concluded that potential partners having secure attachment styles may facilitate the development of satisfactory relationships based on shared passion, commitment, and intimacy.


What influences our view of death?

Theorists examine key factors

One can view death as something to fear or as a transition to accept and welcome. Such differing views often arise out of one’s understanding of what death means, as well as from regrets regarding life. Those ideas comprise part of a theory on how we perceive death developed by Shippensburg University psychology professor Adrian Tomer and former Shippensburg University undergraduate psychology major Grafton Eliason (who is now a professor of counseling at California University of Pennsylvania). Having collaborated on previous publications that addressed the topic, their latest jointly authored work is entitled “Life Regrets and Death Attitudes in College Students” and will appear in an upcoming issue of the journal Omega.
With 117 undergraduates as their research participants, the investigators used a variety of assessment instruments, including one that measured regret over the handling of past events, another that measured regret over perceived inability to accomplish desired objectives in the future, the Death Attitude Profile, Revised (to measure one’s view of death), and the Intrinsic Religious Motivation Scale (to measure one’s willingness to put faith in God).
The highest correlation (.59) in the study was between the strength of one’s faith in God and the tendency to accept death. One possibility for that relationship is faith providing a way of understanding death as a meaningful state.
In general, other results tended to support the theory proposed by Tomer and Elison. For example, there were significant correlations of past regrets (.38) and anticipated regrets (.27) with fear of death.
One unexpected finding was the significant correlation (.20) between past regrets and acceptance of death. A negative relationship was what the authors had anticipated. They note that reasons for the positive relationship are only speculative at this point. Here are two possibilities: seeing death as offering an opportunity for forgiveness or as an escape from a life that is seen as a painful failure. Those with past regrets simultaneously looking forward to death and fearing death is consistent with ambivalence toward death that is frequently seen in suicidal individuals. You or your students might have your own speculations and observations as well.


How are interpersonal problems related to feelings toward parents?

Researchers find patterns

In a presentation entitled “Interpersonal Problems and Affective Experiences with Parents” at the 2005 meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in New Orleans, Shippensburg University psychology professor Toru Sato and undergraduate psychology major Catherine Beer shared their findings on links among interpersonal problems college women have and emotions they experience with their parents. In the study of 268 university women, Sato and Beer employed the Inventory of Interpersonal Problems to identify tendencies toward being cold, nonassertive, vindictive, domineering, intrusive, socially avoidant, exploitable, and overly nurturant. They used the Multiple Affective Adjective Check List to measure the strength of various emotions (anxiety, depression, hostility, positive affect, sensation seeking) experienced with mothers and with fathers. Although the investigators found a number of statistically significant correlations, most of those were .26 or less. The one exception was with women who were cold. Although there were no statistically significant correlations for such women with their mothers, the three highest correlations of the study were for women’s coldness and their positive feelings (-.31), anxiety (.36), and depression (.42) experienced in the presence of their fathers.
Which came first, the coldness or the negative emotions toward fathers, remains an area to be investigated. Girls and women who are naturally cold might feel more comfortable with their mothers than with their fathers. On the other hand, feeling anxious and down in the presence of their fathers may lead girls to develop cold personalities. Both are possibilities.
Young women who are overly domineering appear to have some risk for feeling anxious and depressed with fathers as well as mothers. Again it is still to be determined whether feeling tense and low in the presence of parents leads girls to try to dominate others or attempting to dominate one’s parents fosters anxiety and low mood.
Regarding other interpersonal problems the researchers examined, tendencies to have those difficulties were significantly related to anxiety and depression in the presence of fathers, but not mothers. As with coldness, it may be that young women with lots of interpersonal difficulties feel more comfortable with their mothers than with their fathers or it could be that feeling anxious and depressed with their fathers may put girls at greater risk for developing a host of interpersonal problems.


What predicts concern and caring for others?

Community connections are important

What effects do perceived community opportunities and attitude toward one’s community have on altruism and on participation in out-of-school activities? Those questions were examined by Iowa State University faculty members Kathleen Morrissey and Ronald Werner-Wilson. Their research is described in a 2005 Adolescence article entitled “The Relationship Between Out-of-School Activities and Positive Youth Development: An Investigation of the Influences of Communities and Family.” The authors note that in order to feel connected to others, as opposed to becoming mired in self-absorption, young people need to participate in group activities that provide opportunities for accepting responsibility and taking on challenges. For example, they cite previous research suggesting that religious activities create feelings of unity while at the same time emphasizing the value of every person and the need to give of yourself to others. In a somewhat different vein, previous research has also shown that sports involvement is associated with better self-esteem and self-confidence. Participation in activities such as chorus has been found to be related to improved ability to make decisions and to plan implementation strategies.
The 304 participants lived in 14 Midwestern sites (both urban and rural) and were in grades 6-12. Across all grade levels, three sets of activities consistently attracted a third or more of the young people. Those popular activities were band/orchestra/chorus, team sports, and religious groups. The relationship between perceived opportunities for participation and actual participation in structured out-of-school experiences produced the highest correlation (.57) in the study. There were weaker relationships between altruism and positive attitudes toward community (.21) and between such attitudes and involvement in out-of-school activities (.15).
According to the authors, if there are opportunities for group participation available that young people perceive to be welcoming, they are more apt to participate in activities. In addition, liking one’s community is linked to both altruism and participation in structured out-of-school experiences. So if we want young people to care about others, there is a need for appropriate group opportunities that potential participants see as being inviting.


Editor: Kenneth France, Ph.D.

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