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Fighting parents more likely to have distrusting, cynical sons, study suggests

Parents who argue, disagree and do not co-operate with one another are more likely to have distrusting, cynical and manipulative sons, new research suggests.


Psychologists at Nottingham Trent University and the University of Pécs in Hungary investigated different aspects of parenting and adolescent children’s personality.

They looked specifically at levels of ‘Machiavellianism’ in adolescents – a personality trait characterised by distrust, cynical views, emotionally detached attitudes and manipulation.

As part of the study, the researchers measured Machiavellianism and the adolescent’s perception of conflict between their parents, as well as the parents own views on the quality of their co-parenting.

The results, reported in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, showed that boys with high levels of Machiavellianism perceived their parents as arguing more.

The personality trait was also related to poorer quality co-parenting, it was found.

There was also a particularly strong relationship between fathers’ perceived poor quality co-parenting in the family and boys’ Machiavellianism.

The team says that further research is needed to understand whether it is the parents’ behaviour that is influencing their children, or that Machiavellianism in children is influencing parental quality.

The researchers found no relationship between parenting and levels of Machiavellianism in girls.

Previous studies have shown boys to be more vulnerable to family stress.

Whilst girls may still be affected by parental conflict, the researchers argue, they may be using different strategies to cope with negative family experiences.

The researchers interviewed 266 adolescents – with an average age of 16 – from 98 families as part of the study.

It is hoped that the findings could be used to help inform family interventions, for instance exploring how altering a father’s behaviour may help a child to trust and have more positive views of others.

“In our study, Machiavellianism in boys was related to more conflict and less cooperation among parents,” said Dr Loren Abell, co-researcher and psychologist in Nottingham Trent University’s School of Social Sciences.

She said: “Recent studies suggest that these characteristics may be learnt or emerge as an adaptive strategy following stressful or adverse family relationships.

“Parents serve as role models for their children and negative interactions between them may suggest to their children that the emotional welfare of others is not important. This is linked to the emotional detachment and self-serving strategies characterised by Machiavellianism.”

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    Nottingham Trent University (NTU) has been awarded the highest, gold, rating in the Government’s Teaching Excellence Framework for its outstanding teaching and learning.

    NTU is one of the largest UK universities with nearly 28,000 students and more than 3,500 staff across four campuses, contributing £496m to the UK economy every year. It is one of the most environmentally-friendly universities, containing some of the country’s most inspiring and efficient award-winning buildings.

    The University is passionate about creating opportunities and its extensive outreach programme is designed to enable Nottingham Trent to be a vehicle for social mobility. NTU is the sixth biggest recruiter of students from disadvantaged backgrounds in the country and 95.6% of the its graduates go on to employment or further education within six months of leaving.

    NTU is home to world-class research, winning The Queen’s Anniversary Prize in 2015 - the highest national honour for a UK university. It recognised the University’s pioneering projects to improve weapons and explosives detection in luggage, enable safer production of powdered infant formula and combat food fraud.

    With an international student population of approximately 2,600 from around 100 countries, the University prides itself on its global outlook.

Fighting parents more likely to have distrusting, cynical sons, study suggests

Published on 2 October 2017
  • Subject area: Psychology, sociology, health and social care
  • Category: Press office; School of Social Sciences

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