Gender Differences in the Use of Parental Alienating Behaviors

  • Jennifer J. HarmanEmail author
  • Demosthenes Lorandos
  • Zeynep Biringen
  • Caitlyn Grubb
Original Article


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.


Parental 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.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA

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