Young adults' perceptions of parental differential treatment: measurement and relations to psychological adjustment, attachment style, and close relationships.




Young, Laura Clare

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The present study evaluated a newly developed self-report questionnaire assessing young adults’ perceptions of their parents' current differential treatment of them and their siblings. This study also explored the influence of young adults' perceptions of parental differential treatment (PDT) on their general adjustment, sibling relationship quality, and romantic relationship adjustment. Attachment style was hypothesized to mediate the relations between PDT and these psychosocial outcomes in young adulthood. Participants included 275 university students and non-student community participants aged 18 to 25 years. Participants completed multiple-choice questionnaires assessing the variables of interest. The factor structure of the new measure of perceptions of PDT was confirmed by results of confirmatory factor analysis using structural equation modelling, and this new measure showed good internal consistency and good convergent validity when compared to another widely used self-report measure of PDT. Young adults’ perceptions of higher overall levels of PDT, regardless of which sibling was favoured, and their perceptions of being treated less positively than their siblings were associated with poorer general and romantic relationship adjustment, more insecure attachment style, and poorer quality sibling relationships. A control variable, social desirability, was found to be related to self-reports of lower levels of perceived PDT, more secure attachment style, more positive parent-child and sibling relationships, and better general and romantic relationship adjustment. Results of path analyses showed that attachment style partially mediated the relations between maternal and paternal PDT and sibling relationship quality. Attachment style fully mediated the relations between maternal and paternal PDT and adjustment, and between maternal PDT and romantic relationship adjustment. PDT was related to sibling relationship quality even after accounting for the influence of overall parent-child relationship quality and perceptions of unfairness of PDT. The present study’s strengths and limitations and the implications of the current findings for clinical practice and future research are discussed.



parental differential treatment, young adults, romantic relationship adjustment, sibling relationship quality, psychological adjustment, parent-child relationship quality, unfairness, attachment style