Gender Differences in the Use of Parental Alienating Behaviors

Abstract

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.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1

References

  1. 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.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  2. Archer, J., & Coyne, S. M. (2005). An integrated review of indirect, relational, and social aggression. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 9, 212–230. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15327957pspr0903_2.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  3. Austin, W. G. (2002). Guidelines for utilizing collateral sources of information in child custody evaluations. Family Court Review, 40, 177–184.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Baker, A. J. L., & Darnall, D. (2006). Behaviors and strategies of parental alienation: A survey of parental experiences. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 45, 97–124. https://doi.org/10.1300/J087v45n01_06.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Baker, A. L., & Verrocchio, M. C. (2015). Parental bonding and parental alienation as correlates of psychological maltreatment in adults in intact and non-intact families. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 24, 3047–3057. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-014-0108-0.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Bernet, W., Wamboldt, M. Z., & Narrow, W. E. (2016). Child affected by parental relationship distress. Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 55, 571–579. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaac.2016.04.018.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Bettencourt, B. A., Talley, A., Benjamin, A. J., & Valentine, J. (2006). Personality and aggressive behavior under provoking and neutral conditions: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 132, 751–777. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.132.5.751.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  8. Bjӧrkqvist, K. (2018). Gender differences in aggression. Current Opinion in Psychology, 19, 39–42. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.copsyc.2017.03.030.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Bow, J. N., & Quinnell, F. A. (2002). A critical review of child custody reports. Family Court Review, 40, 164–176.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Burton, L. A., Hafetz, J., & Henninger, D. (2007). Gender differences in relational and physical aggression. Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal, 35, 41–50. https://doi.org/10.2224/sbp.2007.35.1.41.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Buss, D. M., & Dedden, L. A. (1990). Derogation of competitors. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 7, 395–422. https://doi.org/10.1177/0265407590073006.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 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.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  13. Conway, M., Irannejad, S., & Giannopoulos, C. (2005). Status-based expectancies for aggression, with regard to gender differences in social psychological research. Aggressive Behavior, 31, 381–398. https://doi.org/10.1037/t00691-000.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Crick, N. R., & Grotpeter, J. K. (1995). Relational aggression, gender, and socio-psychological adjustment. Child Development, 66, 710–722 http://www.jstor.org/stable/1131945.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Darwin, C. (1871). The descent of man and selection in relation to sex. London: Murray.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Eagly, A. H., & Steffen, V. J. (1986). Gender and aggressive behavior: A meta-analytic review of the social psychological literature. Psychological Bulletin, 100, 309–330. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.100.3.309.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  17. Forrest, S., Eatough, V., & Shevlin, M. (2005). Measuring adult indirect aggression: The development and psychometric assessment of the indirect aggression scales. Aggressive Behavior, 31, 83–97. https://doi.org/10.1002/ab.20074.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Guest, G., Bunce, A., & Johnson, L. (2006). How many interviews are enough? An experiment with data saturation and variability. Field Methods, 18, 59–82. https://doi.org/10.1177/1525822X05279903.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Harman, J. J. & Matthewson, M. (2020). Parental alienation: How it is done. In D. Lorandos and William Bernet (Eds.), Parental alienation- science and law. Springfield: Charles C. Thomas Publisher.

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. Harman, J. J., Bernet, W., & Harman, J. (2019a). Parental alienation: The blossoming of a field of study. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 28, 1–6. https://doi.org/10.1177/0963721419827271.

  23. Harman, J. J., Leder-Elder, S., & Biringen, Z. (2019b). Prevalence of adults who are the targets of parental alienating behaviors and their impact: Results from three national polls. Child & Youth Services Review 106, 1–13. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2019.104471

  24. Hines, D. A., Douglas, E. M., & Berger, J. L. (2015). A self-report measure of legal and administrative aggression within intimate relationships. Aggressive Behavior, 41, 295–309. https://doi.org/10.1002/ab.21540.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  25. 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 

  26. 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. López, T. J., Iglesias, V. E. N., & García, P. F. (2014). Parental alienation gradient: Strategies for a syndrome. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 42, 217–231. https://doi.org/10.1080/01926187.2013.820116.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Lorandos, D. (2020). Parental alienation in U.S. courts 1985–2018. In D. Lorandos & W. Bernet (Eds.), Parental alienation - science & law. Springfield, Charles C. Thomas Publisher, Ltd.

  29. Lussier, P., Corrado, R., & Tzoumakis, S. (2012). Gender differences in physical aggression and associated developmental correlates in a sample of Canadian preschoolers. Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 30, 643–671. https://doi.org/10.1002/bsl.2035.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. 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.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  31. 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Potter, W. J., & Levine-Donnerstein, D. (1999). Rethinking validity and reliability in content analysis. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 27, 258–284. https://doi.org/10.1080/00909889909365539.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Rowlands, G. A. (2018). Parental alienation: A measurement tool. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 60, 316–331. https://doi.org/10.1080/10502556.2018.1546031.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. 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 

  35. Sidanius, J., & Pratto, F. (1999). Social dominance: An intergroup theory of social hierarchy and oppression. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  36. Terrell, H. K., Hill, E. D., & Nagoshi, C. T. (2008). Gender differences in aggression: The role of status and personality in competitive interactions. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, 59, 814–826. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-008-9486-3.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Verrocchio, M. C., Baker, A. J. L., & Marchetti, D. (2017). Adult report of childhood exposure to parental alienation at different developmental time periods. Journal of Family Therapy, 40, 602–618. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-6427.12192.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. von Boch-Galhau, W. (2018). Parental alienation (syndrome)- a serious form of psychological child abuse. Mental Health and Family Medicine, 14, 725–739 http://mhfmjournal.com/pdf/MHFM-117.pdf.

    Google Scholar 

  39. 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. 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/10.1891/1946-6560.8.2.127.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

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.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jennifer J. Harman.

Additional information

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Appendix

Appendix

Table 3 Parental alienation screening tool items for Study 1 interviewee selection

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Harman, J.J., Lorandos, D., Biringen, Z. et al. Gender Differences in the Use of Parental Alienating Behaviors. J Fam Viol 35, 459–469 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10896-019-00097-5

Download citation

Keywords

  • Parental alienating behaviors
  • Aggression
  • Gender differences
  • Parental alienation
  • Family law
  • Assessment