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Organizational, contextual, and autonomic correlates of verbalized mother-adolescent conflict : an explorative study Chipman, Jane Frances


Although there have been consistent findings that moderate levels of family conflict are normative during adolescence (Laursen & Collins, 2004; Montemayor, 1983; Rutter, Graham, Chadwick, and Yule, 1976), the majority of work has focused on frequency and intensity of conflict, largely ignoring other contextual factors that may account for the variance in parent-adolescent verbal conflicts. Additionally, extant research has not examined both parent and adolescent autonomic responding during conflict. The purpose of this study is to address these gaps in knowledge regarding parent-adolescent conflict. A sample of 40 mother-adolescent dyads participated in a revealed differences task to attempt to resolve an area of disagreement. Context-specific features of parent-adolescent verbal conflict were examined in two ways. First, verbal and non-verbal expressions were coded for content and valence following procedures set out by The Oregon Social Learning Center (1998). Second, following the tradition of sociolinguistics, conversational styles (interruptions, turn-taking violations, listening) were assessed following procedures described by Beaumont (1993). Psychophysiological measures (respiratory sinus arrhythmia, cardiac pre-ejection period, electrodermal responding) were continuously recorded for both parent and adolescent for the entirety of the discussion. Results indicated that mothers tended to use positive and neutral content and valence whereas adolescents used negative valence and aversive interactions. In terms of conversational styles, adolescents utilized each of the conversational speech acts more than mothers and tended to perseverate in use of interruptive speech behaviours. However, mothers were shown to utilize a high-considerateness style (i.e., few turn-taking interruptions) to facilitate adolescent conversational involvement. Measures of physiological responding revealed associations with content, valence, and conversational speech acts; positive and neutral aspects of conversation corresponded with parasympathetic responding and negative conversational aspects corresponded with sympathetic arousal. Together, these findings illustrate what contextual features may comprise a moderate level of conflict and provide further insight into the overall processes of parent-adolescent conflict. Implications of these findings for future directions in research on parent-adolescent conflict are discussed.

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