Date of Award

1981

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Henry Biller

Abstract

A model for evaluating studies was developed, based on standards for methodological adequacy of empirical investigations and critiques of reviewers of the parental bereavement literature, in order to determine whether or not there are immediate or long term differences between individuals who experience the death of a parent during childhood and those who do not ~ The assessment model which included a five point scale for rating studies, was applied to research conducted primarily from 1960-1980. Much of the research was found to be methodologically flawed, with fewer than half the studies judged to be minimally acceptable. The methodologically adequate studies did yield credible evidence indicating the existence of differences between subjects who were parentally bereaved and those from other family backgrounds. Research on emotional adjustment, including behavior disorders, delinquency and sex role behavior: personality, and cognitive performance indicated that these areas of functioning may be most susceptible to change after a parent's death. Consistent data were found linking constricted, non-assertive, traditionally feminine behavior with parental bereavement. Less consistent associations with death of a parent were also found for general emotional maladjustment, suicidal behavior, psychosis, rates of delinquency and criminal activity and deficits or superior performance in academic, cognitive, and creative pursuits. Simple causal relationships between death of a parent and the child's subsequent adjustment and development were not demonstrated, however. Characteristics of the deceased parent, the loss process, the family and the environment, and child-specific variables were shown to be involved in the child's behavior. ~ Prediction of a child's vulnerability to the potentially adverse consequences of parental bereavement would therefore depend on consideration of many different factors. The possibility that a parent's death could benefit a child under certain circumstances was also considered. The implications of the findings for further research, prevention, and treatment were explored.

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