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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Baldwin, D.R., Chambliss, L.N. & Towler, K. (2003). Optimism
and stress: An African-American college student perspective. College
Student Journal, 37, 276 -283.
Baumrind, D. (1967). Child care practices anteceding three patterns
of preschool behavior. Genetic Psychology Monographs, 75, 43-88.
Baumrind, D. (1989). Rearing competent children. In Damon, W.
(ed.), Child Development Today and Tomorrow. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco,
Baumrind, D. (1991). Parenting styles and adolescent development.
In Brooks-Gunn, J., Lerner, R. and Peterson, A. (eds.), The Encyclopedia
of Adolescence (pp. 746-758). New York: Garland.
Block, J.H. (1980). The Child-Rearing Practices Report (CRPR): A
Set of Q Items for the Description of Parental Socialization Attitudes
and Values. Institute of Human Development, University of California,
Chang, E. C. (1996). Cultural differences in optimism, pessimism,
and coping: Predictors of subsequent adjustment in Asian American and
Caucasian American college students. Journal of Counseling Psychology,
Chang, E.C. (1998). Dispositional optimism and primary and
secondary appraisal of a stressor controlling for confounding influences
and relations to coping and psychological and physical adjustment.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 1109-1120.
Chemers, M.M., Watson, C.B. & Mays, S.T. (2000). Dispositional
affect and leadership effectiveness: A comparison of self-esteem,
optimism, and efficacy. Personality and Social Psychological Bulletin,
Darling, N. & Steinberg, L. (1993). Parenting style as context:
An integrative model. Psychological Bulletin, 113, 487-496.
Dixon, W.A., Heppner, P.P., Burnett, J.W., & Lips, B.J. (1993).
Hopelessness and stress: Evidence for an interactive model of
depression. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 17, 39-52.
Fletcher, A., Steinberg, L. & Sellers, E. (1999).
Adolescents' well-being as a function of perceived inter-parental
consistency. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 61, 599-610.
Hasan, N. & Power, T.G. (2002). Optimism and pessimism in
children: Study of parenting correlates. International Journal of
Behavioral Development, 26, 185-19 I.
Lamb, M.E. (ed.). (1997). The Role of the Father in Child
Development. New York: John Wiley & Son.
Lounsbury, J.W., Saudargas, R.A., and Gibson, L.W. (2004). An
investigation of personality traits in relation to intention to withdraw
from college. Journal of College Student Development, 45, 517-534.
Maccoby, E.E. & Martin, J.A. (1983). Socialization in the
context of the family: Parent-child interaction. In Mussen, P.H. (ed.),
Handbook of Child Psychology (pp. 1-101). New York: Wiley & Son.
Parker, B. & Gladstone, G.L. (1996). Parental characteristics
as influences on adjustment in adulthood. In Pierce, G.R., Sarason, B.R.
& Sarason, I.G. (eds.), Handbook of Social Support and the Family
(pp. 195-218). New York: Plenum.
Patrick, M.R., Snyder, J., Schrepferman, L.M. & Snyder, J.
(2005). The joint contribution of early parental warmth, communication,
and tracking and early child conduct problems on monitoring in late
childhood. Child Development, 76, 999-1014.
Peterson, C. (2000). The future of optimism. American Psychologist,
Pratt, M.W., Norris, J.E., van de Hoef, S. &Arnold, M.L.
(2001). Stories of hope: Parental optimism in narratives about
adolescent children. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 18,
Rohner, R.P. (1998). Father love and child development: History and
current evidence. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 7,
Scheier, M.F. & Carver, C.S. (1985). Optimism, coping and
health: Assessment and implications of generalized outcome expectancies.
Health Psychology, 4, 219-247.
Scheier, M.F., Carver, C.S., & Bridges, M.W. (1994).
Distinguishing optimism from neuroticism (and trait anxiety,
self-mastery, and self-esteem): A reevaluation of the life orientation
test. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67, 1063-1078.
Segerstrom, S.C., Taylor, S.E., Kemeny, M.E., & Fahey, J.L.
(1998). Optimism is associated with mood, coping, and immune change in
response to stress. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74,
Seligman, M.E.P. (1998). Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind
and Your Life. New York: Pocket Books.
Steinberg, L. (2001). We know some things: Parent-adolescent
relationships in retrospect and prospect. Journal of Research on
Adolescence, 11, 1-19.
Steinberg, L., Lamborn, S., Darling, N., Mounts, N. &
Dornbusch, S. (1994). Over-time changes in adjustment and competence
among adolescents from authoritative, authoritarian, indulgent and
neglectful families. Child Development, 65, 754-770.
Sternberg, R. (1994). In search of the human mind. Fort Worth, TX:
Strage, A. & Brandt, T.S. (1999). Authoritative parenting and
college students' academic adjustment and success. Journal of
Educational Psychology, 91, 146-156.
Taylor, S.E., Kemeny, M.E., Bower, J.E., Gruenewald, T.L., &
Reed, G.M. (2000). Psychological resources, positive illusions, and
health. American Psychologist, 55, 99-109.
DEBORA R. BALDWIN, PH.D., ANNE MCINTYRE, PH.D. AND ELIZABETH
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 **