Journal of Child and Family Studies

, Volume 27, Issue 12, pp 3842–3852 | Cite as

Family Unpredictability and Psychological Distress in Early Adulthood: The Role of Family Closeness and Coping Mechanisms

  • Amy M. KolakEmail author
  • Candace L. Van Wade
  • Lisa Thomson Ross
Original Paper


Unpredictability within the family environment has been consistently linked to anxiety and depressive symptomology in early adulthood. The current investigation sought to examine how individual and family factors may serve to protect college students from the potentially detrimental effects of growing up with family chaos. A multi-dimensional survey, including measures assessing family unpredictability, coping behavior, anxiety, and depressive symptoms, was administered to 260 (68% female) undergraduate college students. A series of regression models found mediating and moderating effects: the relationship between family unpredictability and psychological distress was explained in part by less family closeness, and this was especially true among students who engaged in more emotion-focused coping. Individuals who used less emotion-focused coping did not appear to suffer from psychological distress associated with family unpredictability. Conversely, task-focused coping did not moderate the association between family unpredictability and psychological distress; yet, individuals who used more task-focused coping, in general, experienced less distress. These findings could be used to inform intervention efforts targeted at improving parenting and caregiving practices as well as the development of campus programs aimed at improving students’ coping strategies.


College students Family unpredictability Anxiety Depression Coping 



This research was supported by funding from the Humanities and Social Sciences Dean’s Discretionary Fund at the College of Charleston. We are grateful to the students who participated in the Family Dynamics Survey and the research assistants who assisted with data collection and entry, especially Dryden Epstein, Hayley Jackson, Emily Morgan, Samantha Rance, and Stephanie Ziegler.

Author Contributions

A.K.: designed and executed the study, conceptualized this paper, analyzed the data, and wrote the paper. C.V.: collaborated with A.K. on the conceptualization of the paper, analyzed the data, and wrote the paper. L.R.: designed and executed the study and collaborated in the writing and editing of the final manuscript.


This study was supported by funding from the Humanities and Social Sciences Dean’s Discretionary Fund at the authors’ institution.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyCollege of CharlestonCharlestonUSA

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