Perceived parenting styles on college students' optimism.
Article Type:
College students (Psychological aspects)
Optimism (Evaluation)
Parenting (Methods)
Parenting (Influence)
Baldwin, Debora R.
McIntyre, Anne
Hardaway, Elizabeth
Pub Date:
Name: College Student Journal Publisher: Project Innovation (Alabama) Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Education Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2007 Project Innovation (Alabama) ISSN: 0146-3934
Date: Sept, 2007 Source Volume: 41 Source Issue: 3
Product Code: E197500 Students, College
Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States

Accession Number:
Full Text:
The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between perceived parenting styles and levels of optimism in undergraduate college students. Sixty-three participants were administered surveys measuring dispositional optimism and perceived parental Authoritative and Authoritarian styles. Multiple regression analysis revealed that both perceived maternal and paternal Authoritative styles significantly predicted levels of optimism, but Authoritarian style did not. The discussion focuses on possible mechanisms by which paternal Authoritative style, in particular, may foster late adolescent dispositional optimism.


Parenting style is but one variable that has been researched extensively with regard to human development. More specifically, Baumrind's conceptualization of parenting style has laid the foundation for examining type of parenting conducive to the successful socialization of children in the United States (Baumrind, 1967, 1991). In this conceptualization, parents' values and the beliefs they hold about their roles as parents define naturally occurring patterns of affect, practices, and values. Using this heuristic device, Baumrind (1967) proposed three types of parenting styles.

The Authoritarian parenting style is a highly restrictive parenting style in which adults tend to impose many rules, expect strict obedience, and often rely on physical punishment to gain compliance. These parents tend to be demanding but not responsive (Maccoby & Martin, 1983). The Permissive parenting style is a lax parenting style in which adults make few demands, encourage their children to express their feelings, and rarely use force to gain control over their behavior (Baumrind, 1989). Parents characterized by this style tend not to require mature behavior from their children, but encourage independence instead. According to Baumrind (1991), the Authoritative parenting style consists of a constellation of parent attributes that include high standards, emotional support, encouragement of bi-directional communication, and consistent enforcement of whatever rules they establish. In other words, they tend to be demanding but not restrictive (Maccoby & Martin, 1983).

In general, children and adolescents who are raised by Authoritative parents tend to have better psychosocial skills and display better emotional well being than do the offspring of parents who are not Authoritative (Darling & Steinberg, 1993; Parker & Gladstone, 1996; Steinberg, Lamborn, Darling, Mounts, & Dornbusch, 1994). For example, Strage and Brandt (1999) found that college students living in an Authoritative home reported more confidence, persistence, and academic success compared with their counterparts.

Optimism has been identified as a valuable psychological resource that is associated with enhanced mental health (Seligman, 1998). According to Scheier and Carver (1985), dispositional optimism refers to the degree to which an individual holds positive expectancies for their future. More specifically, it refers to the extent to which individuals expect a good outcome to occur rather than a bad outcome. Dispositional optimism conceptualized from an expectancy perspective lends support to the common sense notion that optimists tend to embrace the positive aspects of life, while pessimists tend to embrace the negative aspects of life.

Optimism has been linked to desirable outcomes such as good morale, achievement orientation and improved health (Chemers, Watson, & May, 2000; Peterson, 2000; Taylor, Kemeny, Bower, Grnenewald, & Reed, 2000). More specifically, greater optimism has been found to be associated with less mood disturbance in response to life events. For example, Segerstrom, Taylor, Kemeny, and Fahey (1998) reported optimistic first year law students tended to display better mood and a more robust immune system than their pessimistic counterparts. In our laboratory, we found that greater optimism was associated with less reported perceived stress in African-American college students (Baldwin, Chambliss, & Towler, 2003).

The relationship between parenting styles and child psychosocial outcomes are well documented. To our knowledge, empirical studies examining the association between parenting styles and dispositional optimism are scant. However, there is evidence that suggest that the same parenting behaviors (e.g., hostility, rejection, parental dominance or control) that contribute to child depression may contribute to pessimism in children as well (Dixon, Heppner, Burnett & Lips, 1993). Furthermore, Hasan and Power (2002) found that maternal pessimism was positively correlated with child pessimism and that maternal depressive symptoms correlated negatively with child optimism. The association between parenting style and personality traits such as optimism and pessimism may be attributed, in part, to modeling. More specifically, an optimistic parent might display more warmth and support than a pessimistic parent. Thus, cultivating the development of optimism later on in life in their children.

The purpose of this investigation was to further examine this possible relationship and to identify a possible mechanism by which authoritative parenting style may influence psychosocial competence in late adolescence. Although some developmentalists have criticized the rigid distinction between authoritative and authoritarian parenting styles, due to the difficulty of assigning a parent to a single style (e.g., Sternberg, 1994), it is still a useful conceptualization from which to examine one aspect of parenting. It must be noted that the permissive parenting style was not examined in this study. In general, it was hypothesized that parenting style would be significantly correlated with late adolescent optimism and that the Authoritative style would be the best predictor this personality trait.



The participants in this study consisted of 63 undergraduate college students (29 men, 34 females) enrolled in an introductory management course in the southeastern United States. The average age was 19.6 (SD = 1.38) and the men were significantly older than the females t(1, 61) = 3.23, p< .01. The ages of participants ranged from 17 to 24 years and the majority were Euro-Americans (81.5%). All students were volunteers and received extra credit for their participation in this study.


Optimism. The Life Orientation Test (LOT) was used to measure adolescent optimism (Scheier & Carver, 1985). The LOT is an 8 item self-report scale (plus 4 fillers), which measures generalized expectancies for positive and negative outcomes. Using a 5-point response scale ranging from 0 (strongly disagree) to 4 (strongly agree), respondents were asked to indicate their degree of agreement with the items. Scores may range from 0 to 32, where higher scores indicate greater optimism. Sample statements include: "In uncertain times, I usually expect the best," and "If something can go wrong for me, it will." It is the most commonly used measure of optimism and predicts a wide range of psychological and physical outcomes (Hasan &Power, 2002). Scheier and Carver (1985) reported the Cronbach's alpha for the scale to be .76 (n = 624). Furthermore, Scheier, Carver and Bridges (1994) reported a high internal consistency reliability of .82.

Perceived Parental Styles. Using the Kochanska's scales from the third-person form of the Child Rearing Practices Report (CRPR: Block, 1980), participants were asked to rate separately the degree to which their father and mother displayed each of the 91 CRPR statements about parental attitudes or practices. Using a 7-point scale, the participants rated each statement for the degree to which it was descriptive (+3= Very Descriptive) or undescriptive (3 = Very Undescriptive) of the focal parent. The Authoritarian and Authoritative subscales are based on responses to 13 and 16 items, respectively. These subscales (Authoritarian and Authoritative) are independent of each other; thus it is possible for a parent to be rated high (or low) on both scales.


Table 1. displays the means and standard deviations for optimism and parenting style. To examine the relationships among variables, a correlational analysis (Pearson) was performed. To determine if parenting styles predicted adolescent optimism, a multiple regression analysis was performed. For all analyses, the level of significance was set at 05.

The correlational analyses revealed significant relationships between parents' (mother's and father's) parenting styles. Maternal Authoritarian style was positively related with paternal Authoritarian style (r = .50, df = 55, p < .01) and paternal Authoritative style (r = .25, df = 55, p < .05). Furthermore, maternal Authoritative style was positively related with paternal Authoritative style (r = .29, df = 55, p < .05). Finally, both paternal (r = .43, df = 55, p <.01) and maternal (r = .34, df = 55, p <.01) Authoritative parenting styles were significantly related to late adolescent optimism.

Separate hierarchical linear regression analyses were computed for each parenting style and the dependent variable of optimism. The regression analysis is displayed in Table 2. The father's parenting style was entered on the first step, and in the subsequent step the mother's parenting style was allowed to enter in the stepwise fashion. The regression analysis revealed that parenting style was a predictor of optimism. More specifically, both perceived paternal (, = .43, p < .01) and maternal ([beta] = .29, p < .05) Authoritative parenting style were significant predictors of adolescent levels of dispositional optimism. Paternal Authoritative style predicted 19% of the variance, compared with the maternal Authoritative style, which accounted for 8% of the variance. However, Authoritarian parenting style was not a predictor of dispositional optimism (p > .05).


The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between perceived parental styles and levels of optimism in a late adolescent college population. We found that maternal and paternal parenting styles were significantly correlated. As hypothesized, the Authoritative parenting style predicted late adolescent optimism while the Authoritarian parenting style demonstrated little influence on this personality construct. Although conclusions drawn from this self-report correlational study must be made with caution, the results presented here support previous research regarding the enhanced psychological well-being of adolescents exposed to an Authoritative parenting style (e.g., Baumrind, 1991; Patrick, Synder, Schrepferman, & Synder, 2005; Steinberg, 2001).

Regardless of parenting style, mothers and fathers were viewed as having similar parenting styles by their late adolescent offspring in this study. According to Fletcher, Steinberg, and Sellers (1999), 75% of parents share similar parental practices. This finding of agreement between mothers and fathers may be due to their influence on each other over time, as well as sharing similar values.

The offspring from Authoritative parents tend to excel academically, exhibit few internalizing or externalizing behavioral problems, score higher on measures of self-reliance, and do exhibit more prosocial behaviors (for review see Steinberg, 2001). Furthermore, longitudinal studies have shown that the Authoritative parenting style has far reaching consequences on the psychological competence of offspring as measured through late adolescence (e.g., Steinberg et al., 1994). However, the mechanisms by which these outcomes occur have not been identified.

One possible mechanism by which enhanced well-being occurs via the Authoritative parenting style may be that of optimism. There is an abundance of data which shows that optimists tend to be psychologically and physically better adjusted than their pessimistic counterparts (for review see Peterson, 2000). Moreover, research shows that optimists tend to use more adaptive coping strategies compared with pessimistic individuals (Chang, 1996, 1998). Therefore, one could argue that optimistic adults who become parents are more likely to display a more Authoritative parenting style than pessimistic individuals.

The present study's findings are similar to Pratt, Norris, van de Hoef, and Arnold (2001) who examined parental optimism about their children. Using the narrative research method, parents reported stories of hope regarding their child's future. They found the construct of generative (optimistic belief in mankind) was associated more with Authoritative parents who tended to view their children's potential in a positive manner in comparison with less authoritative parents. Thus, via modeling, Authoritative parents may communicate a more positive outlook to their offspring than less Authoritative parents. However, an alternative explanation for the association found between late adolescent optimism and Authoritative parenting style is that the parenting style itself fosters the development of optimism in the offspring. According to Steinberg (2001), the Authoritative style of parenting is effective due to increases in nurturance and parental involvement that make the children more receptive to parental influences.

Seligman (1998) has postulated that dispositional optimism can be cultivated or learned via masterful thinking. More specifically, by providing the individual with realistic challenges in which failure is possible, an individual's expectation can be altered. When these challenges are repeatedly met with success, the individual begins to expect a good outcome and thus optimism is enhanced.

We argue that the authoritative parenting style provides such an environment with which to facilitate the development of experiences conducive to optimistic thinking. This personality trait may play an important role with regard to college attrition. Lounsbury, Saudargas, and Gibson (2004) found that the narrow personality traits (e.g. optimism, sense of identity, work drive) were all negatively related to withdrawal intention in first year college students.

A somewhat surprising finding from our study was the influence of the father on late adolescent optimism. The paternal Authoritative style predicted more of the variance compared with the maternal Authoritative style. Our findings support recent studies regarding the impact of the father on outcome variables such as academic performance, self-concept and psychopathology in children (Lamb, 1997; Rohner, 1998). Further studies are warranted to identify the relative contribution of mother's verses father's parenting style with respect to offspring development.

There are a number of limitations to the current study that should be noted. The data are cross-sectional, small sample size, and the results from this study do not allow us to draw conclusions regarding the direction of the effect. Moreover, this was a self-report study in which the adolescent was asked to rate the extent to which their parents displayed various parenting behaviors. It is plausible that optimistic college students may perceive their parents in a more "favorable" light than pessimistic participants in this study. Direct assessment of the parent's view of their parenting style was not obtained.

In summary, perceived parental Authoritative parenting style by mother or father was associated with greater optimism in late adolescence whereas Authoritarian parenting style was not. Furthermore, the prediction of optimism was improved by the addition of (either) other parent, which suggests there may be an additive effect. Positive Authoritative parenting effects can be seen even in late adolescence college students.


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Department of Psychology

University of Tennessee

D.R. Baldwin, Associate Professor; Received Ph.D. in experimental psychology with focus on stress and health outcome. A. McIntyre, Associate Professor; Received Ph.D. in clinical psychology with focus on child developement. E. Hardaway, graduate student in clinical psychology, University of Tennessee.
Table 1     Descriptive Statistics

Variables   N    Mean     SD

Optimism    63   30.75    6.58
M-Tarian    63   57.48   10.96
M-Tative    63   83.90   11.70
F-Tarian    55   56.11   10.07
F-Tative    55   83.27   13.12

Note: M-Tarian (Mother Authoritarian), M-Tative (Mother
Authoritative), F-Tarian (Father Authoritarian), and F-Tative (Father

Table 2. Stepwise Regression for Predictors of Optimism

Model   [beta]    R     R Square   t

1        .433    .433     .187     3.49 **
2        .289    .541     .264     2.36 *

(a.) Predictors: F-Authoritative

(b.) Predictors: F-Authoritative, M-Authoritative
p < .05 *; p < .01 **
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