Gender Differences in the Use of Parental Alienating Behaviors
Past research indicates females prefer the use of indirect over direct forms of aggression, whereas the opposite pattern has been found for males. We investigated a specific form of aggression: parental alienating behaviors. Parents who alienate their children from another parent utilize both direct and indirect forms of aggression. We examined whether there are gender differences in the use of these behaviors by analyzing data from two samples: interviews with parents who have been the target of parental alienating behaviors, and family law appellate court rulings in which parental alienation was found. In both studies, mothers used significantly more indirect than direct parental alienating strategies. In contrast, fathers tended to use similar levels of both indirect and direct parental alienating strategies. Further, fathers did not use more direct forms of this type of aggression than mothers. Better standards of practice for the assessment of parental alienation must be developed to prevent misdiagnoses and gender biases.
KeywordsParental alienating behaviors Aggression Gender differences Parental alienation Family law Assessment
The authors would like to thank the undergraduate and graduate student research team who have worked with the first author for several years to interview targeted parents, transcribe interviews, and analyze the transcripts and legal decisions for the current study. In particular, we give special thanks to Betheny King, Hannah Cutright, Erin Wade, Xi Huang, Ellen M. Ratajack, Gabrielle Klimon for assistance with coding the transcripts for study #1. This research did not receive any specific grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors and the authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.
- Anderson, C. A., & Bushman, B. J. (2002). Human aggression. Annual Review of Psychology, 53, 27–51. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.psych.53.100901.135231.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Card, N. A., Stucky, B. D., Sawalani, G. M., & Little, T. D. (2008). Direct and indirect aggression during childhood and adolescence: A meta-analytic review of gender differences, intercorrelations, and relations to maladjustment. Child Development, 79, 1185–1229. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8624.2008.01184.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Harman, J. J. & Matthewson, M. (in press). Parental alienation: How it is done. In Author 2 and William Bernet (Eds.), Parental alienation- science and law. Springfield: Charles C. Thomas Publisher.Google Scholar
- Harman, J. J., Leder-Elder, S., & Biringen, Z. (2016). Prevalence of parental alienation drawn from a representative poll. Children and Youth Services Review, 66, 62–66. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2016.04.021.
- Harman, J. J., Kruk, E., & Hines, D. (2018). Parental alienating behaviors: An unacknowledged form of family violence. Psychological Bulletin, 144, 1275–1299. https://doi.org/10.1037/bul0000175.
- Harman, J. J., Bernet, W., & Harman, J. (2019). Parental alienation: The blossoming of a field of study. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 28, 1–6. https://doi.org/10.1177/0963721419827271.
- Harman, J. J., Leder-Elder, S., & Biringen, Z. (2019). Prevalence of adults who are the targets of parental alienating behaviors and their impact: Results from three national polls. Child & Youth Services Review. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2019.104471
- Kruk, E. (2018). Parental alienation as a form of emotional child abuse: Current state of knowledge and future directions for research. Family Science Review, 22, 141–164.Google Scholar
- Lagerspetz, K. M. J., Bjӧrkqvist, K., & Peltonen, T. (1988). Is indirect aggression typical of females? Gender differences in aggressiveness in 11- to 12-year-old children. Aggressive Behavior, 14, 403–414. https://doi.org/10.1002/1098-2337(1988)14:6<403::AID-AB2480140602>3.0.CO;2-DView.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Lorandos, D. (in press). Parental alienation in U.S. courts 1985–2018. In D. Lorandos & W. Bernet (Eds.), Parental alienation - science & law. Springfield, Charles C. Thomas Publisher, Ltd.Google Scholar
- Murray-Close, D., Ostrov, J. M., Nelson, D. A., Crick, N. R., & Coccaro, E. F. (2010). Proactive, reactive, and romantic relational aggression in adulthood: Measurement, predictive validity, gender differences, and association with intermittent explosive disorder. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 44, 393–404. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpsychires.2009.09.005.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Ӧsterman, K., Bjӧrkqvist, K., Lagerspetz, K. M. J., Kaukiainen, A., Landau, S. F., Fraczek, A., & Caprara, G. V. (1998). Cross-cultural evidence of female indirect aggression. Aggressive Behaviors, 24, 1–8. https://doi.org/10.1002/(SICI)1098-2337(1998)24:1<1::AID-AB1>3.0.CO;2-R.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Scheithauer, H., Haag, N., Mahlke, J., & Ittel, A. (2008). Gender and age differences in the development of relational/indirect aggression: First results of a meta-analysis. European Journal of Developmental Science, 2, 176–189.Google Scholar
- White, J. W., & Kowalski, R. M. (1994). Deconstructing the myth of the nonaggressive woman: A feminist analysis. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 18, 487–508. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1471-6402.1994.tb01045.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Yuan, C., Shao, A., Chen, X., Xin, T., Wang, L., & Bian, Y. (2014). Developmental trajectory and gender differences in Chinese adolescents’ physical and relational aggression: An analysis using the latent class growth model. Journal of Aggression, Conflict, and Peace Research, 6, 44–55. https://doi.org/10.1108/JACPR-11-2012-0013.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Zapor, H., Wolford-Clevenger, C., Elmquist, J., Febres, J., Shorey, R. C., Brasfield, H., Leisring, P. A., & Stuart, G. L. (2017). Psychological aggression committed through technology: A study with dating college students. Partner Abuse, 8, 127–145. https://doi.org/10.1891/1946-65126.96.36.199.CrossRefGoogle Scholar