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The Impact of Parenting Styles and Non-shared Environments on the Development of Antisocial Personality in Siblings by Gabriella Kortsch, Ph. D., Cht

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The Impact of Parenting Styles and Non-shared Environments on the Development of Antisocial Personality in Siblings
Gabriella Kortsch, Ph.D., CHT

This paper attempts to examine the influence of parenting styles on the outcome of psychopathy or antisocial personality on children with regards to the differences experienced by siblings within the same family. Although genetics will be looked at briefly, the main area to be scrutinized more closely is the difference that parenting styles may or may not make on the outcome of psychopathy in general, and specifically, the area of why siblings of the same family, with presumably similar genetic backgrounds and similar parenting styles, will have different outcomes. The working hypothesis is that siblings who do not succumb to Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASP), are those who perceived their parents as being warmer, more supportive, and more controlling.

Reiss, Ploming, Hetherington, et. al (1994) suggest that the importance of siblings in this type of research should become as important as control groups were in a previous generation of studies. Siblings might be regarded as another form of control, this one within families.
Hetherington (1994) indicates that one of the most notable findings in contemporary behavior genetics is that children growing up in the same family are not very similar. Sibling correlations for cognitive measures are about .40, for personality measures about .20, and concordance rates for psychopathology are often less than 10%. Thus, and in order to understand individual differences between siblings, not only must the genetic background be examined, but the shared and the non-shared environment must also be examined.
On the genetic end of the continuum, one of the most surprising findings in developmental research is that genetic factors contribute to measures of parenting. (Plomin, 1994; Scarr, 1992) These genetic influences are a product of the adolescent’s genetic characteristics rather than the parent’s. Although genes cannot influence the environment, they can influence the way others treat and respond to an adolescent by contributing to his or her behavior. (Neiderhiser, Hetherington, Pike & Reiss, 1998). Not only do genetic factors contribute to measures of parenting, they also contribute to associations between parenting and adolescent adjustment. (Pike, McGuire, Hetherington, Reiss & Plomin, 1996; Plomin, 1994) Thus, the same genetic factors that influence adolescent adjustment also influence parenting, insofar as the two are correlated.
Plomin, Chipuer and Niederhiser (1994) state that nongenetic factors are at least as important as heritability, or genetic factors in the origin of behavioral dimensions and disorders. Family members are similar primarily for reasons of shared heredity, not shared family environment. In other words, environmental influences that affect development are not shared by family members. The environmental influences are experienced differently by members of the same family.
Reiss, Plomin, Hetherington, et. al (1994) affirm that the type of environmental factors that shape development must be those that are different for each sibling in the same family. These are not social class, neighborhood conditions, marital conflict, an intellectually enriched home environment, maternal depression, etc. because all of these factors are shared by all siblings of the same family. The range of nonshared effects is very large, and could include intrauterine experience, differences in pre-and postnatal exposure to toxins, bacterial, viral and fungal pathogens, and differences in exposure to physical accidents, as well as across the lifespan, occupational settings, economic circumstances, etc. From one family to the next, these effects might be random. In one case a child’s birth might coincide with the death of her maternal grandmother, but another sibling escapes the ravages of the mother’s grief. In another family, a child might be born into financial straits, but the older sibling actually experienced material abundance because disaster in the father’s business had not yet struck.
It is clear that differential experiences are not restricted to parenting. Differences in the siblings’ experiences with one another also constitute a significant part of the nonshared environment (Baker & Daniels, 1990; Daniels, 1987; Daniels, Dunn, Furstenberg, & Plomin, 1985; Dunn, Stocker, and Plomin, 1990). Some of the preliminary studies done of the nonshared environment shed light on the genetic influence on nonshared effects. A mother may treat one sibling with greater affection than another because the first sibling is more socially responsive than the second, which is a trait that may be heritable. Neiderhiser, Hetherington, Pike & Reiss (1998) provide the example of highly irritable adolescents – a characteristic that is likely to be influenced in part by genetic factors, may also be more likely to perceive their parents as negative, to elicit negative behaviors from their parents, and to exhibit antisocial behavior.
The most important environmental influences on both normal and pathological development are those that are not shared by siblings in the same family. (Reiss et al., 1995)
Parent Inadequate Discipline
Chamberlain & Patterson (1995) refer to four subtypes of problem discipline:

  • Inconsistent discipline

  • Irritable explosive discipline

  • Low supervision and involvement

  • Inflexible rigid discipline

All four subtypes are linked with problem, delinquent, or antisocial behavior, although only a third of children who develop conduct disorder, go on to develop ASP (Zoccolillo, Pickles, Quinton & Rutter, 1992).

However, when children show severe conduct disorder problems by early adolescence, a large percentage of these go on to severe psychopathology in adulthood. Antisocial personality disorders are the most frequent outcomes (Robins, 1966) and one study indicates that conduct disorders may be the central gateway to most adult psychopathology (Robins & Price, 1991). Paris (1998) points out that ASP is increasing dramatically in prevalence in North America, having nearly doubled in 15 years (Robins & Regier, 1991; Kessler et al., 1994). Paris (1998) again suggests that family dysfunction, is probably responsible for the increasing prevalence of psychopathy.
Cusinato (1998) makes a similar statement referring to the fact that dysfunctional parental attitudes influence the development of psychopathology in the child’s later life, although as Rutter & Rutter (1993) point out, resilience is the rule, not the exception. A less close father-child relationship seems to predict later problem behavior (Rothbaum, Schneider, Pott, & Beatty, 1995). Children perceiving their parents as manifesting symptoms have more behavior problems (Cusinato, 1998). Movement through the stages of overt antisocial child, early arrest and chronic juvenile arrest is maintained by a pattern of disrupted parenting practices, social disadvantage and frequent family transitions (Patterson and Yoerger, 1999), family breakdown or dysfunctional family, as well as a breakdown of the structures outside the family that might have provided community support for children at risk (Paris, 1998).
Vuchinich, Bank & Petterson (1992) found that preadolescent antisocial behavior had substantial concurrent negative effects on the quality of parental discipline and peer relationships, with evidence of a reciprocal relationship between parental discipline and child antisocial behavior being found. Their study also specifies how parental discipline practices are involved in maintaining the stability of antisocial behavior in preadolescents.
Patterson and Yoerger’s (1993) “coercion model” of delinquent and aggressive behavior focuses specifically on the contributions of parent-child interactions to child antisocial behavior. Finley (1998) describes this as “aversive behavior by a family member towards the child is countered by an “attack” by the child that serves to terminate the source of aversive stimulation. Further, not only is the coercive behavior by the child not punished effectively, but also coercive behavior, rather than prosocial behavior is reinforced in the family setting. This escalates to produce a cascade of secondary problems related to the child’s antisocial behavior.
Although the general relation between parenting and the development of antisocial behavior is well established (Dishion, French, & Patterson, 1995), there is variability from study to study in the magnitude of predictive validity, due mainly to different measures used to define parenting. Use of parents’ recall or reconstruction of their parenting behavior tends to produce lower predictability (Brook, Whiteman, Gordon & Cohen, 1986; Patterson & Bank, 1986). Children’s reports of parenting practices lead to somewhat higher predictive validity (e.g., Nye, 1958; Slocum & Stone, 1965). Outside sources for information on parenting, whether from official records of parent criminality, home visitor ratings, or direct observations, consistently produce the highest level of predictive validity for current and future antisocial behavior.
Dishion, Patterson & Griesler (1994) propose that coercive family management practices which some children experience, produce behaviors that lead them into associations with deviant peers, as well as rejection by other peers, which in turn reinforce their antisocial tendencies.
Thus, ineffective parenting skills produce the contingencies that result in the child’s antisocial behavior.

  • “at-risk child” (Garmezy, 1993)

  • “individual vulnerability” (Perris, 1994)

These terms emphasize the importance of psychosocial factors, other than those of a biological nature, as heightened determinants for disorder at some time in the life span as a consequence of risk factors that may originate in genetic predisposition, dispositional personality attributes, harsh family circumstances, etc. Negative parental styles may be considered as a principal element of risk.

  • “resiliency” or “stress resistance” (Magnusson & Casaer, 1993; Cicchetti & Cohen, 1995; Cowen et al., 1997)

Obviously normative development must be the baseline against which to evaluate deviations from that standard. Resiliency or stress resistance describe the maintenance of adequate behavior in the presence of major stressful life events. (Resiliency research is looking at finding a range of adaptability in at-risk children. Returning to a prior level of performance following a stressful imposition is assumed to reflect a higher degree of competence or function. This construct of enhanced competence – and not the popular idea of coping – is the main element of research into the nature of resiliency.

The combination of lack of affection and an excess of control is generally considered to be a vulnerability factor in the etiology of various psychological disorders. (Parker, 1988; Bowlby, 1988; Perris, 1988)
Factors other than parenting within the child-parent relationship need to be taken into consideration as well, such as parent-child attachment, parent-child bonding, and parent psychopathology.
Nonshared Environment

  1. Parent-Child Measures

  • Warmth and support

    1. Empathy/rapport between parent and child

    2. Expressed level of affection

    3. Mutual involvement in enjoyable activities

    4. Self-disclosure by both parents and children

In single-child family studies these factors act as a buffer against psychopathology in non-divorced and stepfamilies. (Hetherington & Clingempeel, 1992)

  • Control

    1. Attempts by parents to structure their own relationship with their children

    2. Attempts to directly shape their children’s behavior

Although clear limit setting is involved, positive developmental outcomes may ensue. Two nonshared studies (Daniels, 1987; Baker & Daniels, 1990) show positivie associations for father’s controlling behavior as recalled by late adolescents, and both young and old adults.

  • Monitoring

    1. Monitoring has been shown to be central in non-clinical samples (Baumrind, 1978) and in studies of conduct disorder by Patterson and his group (1982). Monitoring may be related to effective parental control or may represent a coercive form of control. It may also be intrusive and stimulate serious parent-child conflict.

  • Coercion, conflict, and negativity

    1. In studies of single child families, in both non-divorced and stepfamilies, parental conflict and negativity toward the child was associated with increased psychopathology (Hetherington & Clingempeel, 1992; 30. Reiss, Howe, Simmens, Bussell, 1996).

    2. Within this area it is important to note the effect that differential involvement in parental conflict may have on siblings. Family fights often involve children. Parents may fight more in the presence of one child than another, involve one child in arguments more frequently, or pressure one child more than others to take sides. Thus the environment in the family may be very different for one child than another. Reiss, Howe, Simmens and Bussell (1996) note that while conflict and negativity showed strong associations with antisocial behavior, however, the more conflict/negativity that was aimed at siblings of an adolescent, the less antisocial behavior was shown by the adolescent. Adolescents are least likely to show antisocial behavior if they receive little conflict/negativity and much warmth directly from their parents and their sibling receives a good deal of problematic parenting. This phenomenon has been called the “sibling barricade”, and the same findings have been duplicated by O’Connor, Hetherington & Reiss (1998). Genetic research (Plomin, Daniels, 1987; Plomin, Emde, Braungart, et al., 1994) had indicated that environments specific for each sibling would have the biggest impact on normal vs. pathologic psychological development.

  1. Sibling Measures

Some data suggest that the sibling relationship has an impact on individual differences in development across the life span

  • Warmth/support

  • Conflict and negativity

  1. Peer Measures

  • Peer popularity

  • Peer college orientation

  • Peer delinquency and substance abuse

Reported Parenting Between Siblings and Perception
It could be speculated that nonshared aspects of parent-child relationships and rearing are likely to be more strongly influenced by the character of the child than by the parental characteristics, since the genetics, personality, and beliefs of at least one parent are fairly fixed across the two children. However, parental handling of two successive offspring may also be quite responsive to changing perspectives, experiences, and environmental influences.
Youth perception of parenting, as shown by separate self-reports can be entirely different from one sibling to another within the same family, revealing how little of the parenting experience is shared by siblings. (Tejerina-Allen, Wagner and Cohen, 1994). Furthermore, the effects on a child of his sibling’s parenting experiences, are also of importance and need to be tested. The phenotypic analyses of Neiderhiser, Hetherington, Pike & Reiss (1998) provided evidence that adolescent perceptions of parental conflict-negativity mediate the association between composites of parental conflict-negativity and adolescent antisocial behavior, but also that there is a direct association between composites of parenting and adolescent antisocial behavior independent of the perceptions of the adolescent.
The same study demonstrated that substantial shared environmental factors contributed to the association between the composite of parental behavior and antisocial behavior once the genetic and environmental influences common to adolescent perceptions of parenting were removed. In other words, most of the genetic influences on the association between parenting and antisocial adolescent behavior can be explained by the adolescent’s perceptions of parenting, especially maternal negativity toward the adolescent. These results were surprising because shared environmental contributions have rarely been found to show a significant influence on the measures assessed in behavioral genetic studies. (Plomin, 1994)
Pike, Hetherington, McGuire, Reiss & Plomin (1996) found that significant nonshared environmental contributions to the environment-adjustment associations were found independent of genetic and share environmental contributions and significant genetic contributions were also implicated. If adolescents are the object of more parental negativity than is their sibling, they are also more likely to experience adjustment difficulties.
Key Factors in Parenting Styles (Cusinato, 1998)
Warmth Factor

  • emotional warmth is consistently found to be the most important factor influencing the way children grow up. A crucial variable that is directly connected to self-esteem

Control Factor and its variables

  • frequency of control

  • style of control

Consistency Factor

  • consistency of messages in home and parenting style

Adolescent Temperament

  • Stice and Gonzalez (1998) examined how individual adolescent differences might temper the effectiveness of certain parenting styles, hypothesizing that adolescent temperament moderates the relations of parental support and control to adolescent antisocial behavior. The unique interaction of adolescent temperament and parenting had never been considered before in the context of the prediction of problem behaviors. Some interesting findings emerged:

    • Maternal support and control consistently were related more strongly to adolescent problem behaviors than were paternal support and control. Earlier research (Forehand & Nousiainen, 1993) had already indicated that maternal and paternal parenting were differentially related to problem behavior. (Lamb, Ketterlinus & Fracasso, 1992) suggest this may be due in part to fathers spending less than one-half the time than mothers do with children, even when mothers work outside the home.

    • Parental control showed consistently stronger relations to adolescent problem behaviors than did parental support. It appeared that the control dimension of parenting was especially important for deterring adolescent antisocial behavior, but specifically which of the parental control aspects (i.e. monitoring, consistency, or enforcement) were responsible for this still needs to be tested.

    • The magnitude of the relations between parenting and problem behaviors were stronger for adolescents who evidenced the temperamental risk factor of elevated behavioral under-control. This was a novel finding, providing evidence that parenting appeared to be particularly important for adolescents who are temperamentally at risk.

Longitudinal research is the most suitable way of studying the connections between parental styles and psychopathology. (Cusinato, 1998) However, it is highly impractical, time-consuming and costly.

To study the range of the temporal antecedents potentially impli­cated in psycho­pathology – in parental rearing styles – four research methods have been found useful:

      1. case studies

  • clinical retrospective inquiry in which single case studies serve as a basis for evaluating risk status and outcome. Using this method indicates that explanations are based not only on genetic factors, but also on psychological responses to stress and on sociocultural elements that can influence mental disorder; the first such element is parental rearing style. (L’Abate, 1994b; Miller & Crabtree, 1994)

      1. follow-back studies

  • retrospective reports based on societal records, typically initiated when children’s disordered behaviors warrant a search for records of their previous history which are examined for early signs of disorder.

      1. follow-up studies

  • typically involve evaluations of subjects’ behavior and status at two time points: at an earlier age (childhood or adolescence) and adulthood.

      1. follow-through research

  • (longitudinal research)

Each method involves problems of sorts (Cusinato, 1998), and in particular, there are claims concerning the low reliability and validity of autobiographical memory in general, the presence of a general memory impairment associated with psychopathology, and the presence of specific mood-congruent memory biases associated with specific types of psychopathology. However, claims that retrospective reports in general and those of psychiatric patients in particular are inherently unreliable, are exaggerated. Researchers and clinicians agree that it is possible to enhance the recall of past experiences with more structured methods. Assessments of past experience would be more reliable if they included inquiries about the occurrence of a range of specific events, rather than having subjects make global estimates of parental attitudes. (Bjork, 1989; Linton, 1986).

Self-report questionnaires - Require respondents to make global judgments about the degree of rejection or overprotection they experienced appear to be useful to verify parental styles, as long as such measures are standardize and possess adequate psychometric properties (Gerlsma, 1994)

  • Children’s Reports of Parental Behavior Inventory (Schaefer, 1965, USA)

  • Parental Bonding Instrument (Parker, Tupling, Brown, 1979, Australia)

  • EMBU: My Memories of Upbringing (Perris, Jacobsson, Linström, von Knorring and Perris, 1980, Europe)

Clinical Interviewing – offers many more opportunities for inquiring about past experience, because it allows investigators to elicit specific personal memories.
Patterson, Reid, Dishion (1992) offer a multi-agent and multi-method approach to the measurement of antisocial behavior, using questionnaires with a several persons involved with the child, as well as child interviews, and telephone interviews.

The subjects will be comprised of 600 non-divorced families with at least two siblings in the same family between the ages of 10 and 18 years. The age difference between the siblings of one family should not be greater than four years. Once all siblings have been tested for problem behavior on the Behavior Problem Index (BPI) (Achenbach & Edelbrock, 1983), those families with at least one sibling with and one sibling without problem behavior, will be further tested.


The domains of parenting that will be measured are warmth/support, conflict/negativity, and monitoring/control by use of questionnaires. These are the

  • Parent-Child Relationship (PCR; Hetherington & Clingempeel, 1992)

  • Parent Discipline Behavior (PDB; Hetherington & Clingempeel, 1992)

  • Expression of Affection (EAF; Hetherington & Clingempeel, 1992)

  • Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS; Strauss, 1979)

A multivariate analysis of variance of warmth/support, conflict/negativity, monitoring/control would be run by child type, either ASP, or non-ASP, plus birth order. In Group 1 the ASP child is older and in Group 2, the ASP child is younger.

In the event that significance is found for the hypothesis that siblings who do not succumb to ASP are those who perceived their parents as being warmer, more supportive, and more controlling, further testing should be done to establish reasons for this perceived difference, as well as to test the relationship between the siblings themselves, and the manner in which the non-ASP sibling perceives the one with ASP, as compared to the manner in which the parents perceive the ASP child.

Dr. Kortsch maintains a private practice in Spain. Should you be interested in further information about her work, please visit

© Gabriella Kortsch, 2001.

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