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Children’s and adolescents’ perceptions of parental guilt induction.

SelectedWorks Author Profiles:

Wendy Rote

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Parents commonly instill guilt in children during socialization (Baumeister, 1998). This practice can foster moral development (Hoffman, 2000) or maladjustment (Barber, 1996), potentially depending on whether children perceive it as appropriate or psychologically controlling (Grusec & Goodnow, 1994). In turn, perceptions of guilt induction may vary based on how and when parents induce guilt, as well as individual differences in children and their relationships with parents (Donatelli et al., 2007). Using hypothetical vignettes, the impact of three factors – domain as defined by social domain theory (Smetana, 2006), highlighted victim (Horton et al., 2001), and criticism focus (Tangney, 1998) – on children’s perceptions of guilt induction was examined. Individual (grade, gender, adjustment) and relationship (support, psychological control) variables were tested as potential moderators.

Participants were 156 middle-class, primarily Caucasian (88%) students in the 3rd, 4th, 7th, 10th, and 11th grades from the Northeastern United States. Repeated measures MANOVA and MANCOVA analyses with follow-up univariate ANOVAs and ANCOVAs indicated that youth evaluated inductions about moral issues as more acceptable, effective, and child-centered and less disrespectful, guilt- and shame-inducing, and maliciously motivated than inductions about personal issues. Evaluations for multifaceted issues fell in-between, with older youth treating multifaceted issues more like personal issues. Inductions focusing on second-order harm to the mother elicited more guilt and shame, especially for personal behaviors, were seen as less acceptable for multifaceted behaviors, and were viewed as stemming from more malicious and less child-centered motives. Inductions criticizing the child as a person elicited more feelings of shame and, for high parental support, were perceived as less effective and child-centered and more maliciously motivated. Youth reporting more parental support and less psychological control perceived inductions as stemming from more child-centered motives. Support was also associated with children’s greater acceptance and internalization of guilt induction about issues with personal components, as well as more positive evaluations of behavior-critical and negative evaluations of person-critical guilt induction. Finally, internalizing symptoms were associated with more, and antisocial behavior with less, receptiveness to guilt induction, especially for more psychologically controlling methods of guilt induction.




University of Rochester