-Written by Katie Little ’18
In 1981, Golan observed that college freshman are faced with two main tasks when transitioning into college: adjusting to a psychological separation from their family and entering the adult world (Golan, 1981). Forming relationships with peers is an important part of this period as relationships with close friends replace familial relationships and become a student’s primary support system (Hinderlie & Kenny, 2002). According to Bowlby’s attachment theory, early relationships become a template for how an individual functions in later relationships (Bowlby, 1988); because of this theory, Hannum and Dvorak decided to look at the effects of parental divorce and familial conflict on student’s transitions to the college social environment.
For their study, Hannum and Dvorak recruited 95 college freshman. The students were, on average, 18.4 years old, and all students were enrolled in an Educational Psychology course. Each of the students filled out several surveys, including the Social Adjustment subscale of the Student Adaptation to College Questionnaire (SACQ) and the Conflict subscale of the Family Environment Scale (FES). The students completed a Parental Attachment Questionnaire and provided demographic information about divorce, remarriage, and general family composition.
Once Hannum and Dvorak looked at the students’ responses, they found that the strongest predictors of social adjustment were attachment to the one’s parents. This finding is consistent with Bowlby’s attachment theory. Furthermore, when they looked at attachment to the mother and attachment to the father separately, they found that attachment to the mother had the most effect on student’s reports of their adjustment to a college environment. However, while attachment to the mother predicted psychological symptoms, it provided a less consistent relationship with social adjustment. Instead, attachment to the father provided a much more consistent relationship. This finding is particularly important to note because attachment theory generally supposes that the mother-infant bond is the most important.
This study did not find strong relationship between family conflict and adjustment to the college environment or divorce and remarriage and adjustment to the college environment. Hannum and Dvorak suggest that this is not because these factors are not important; rather, family conflict had a relationship with attachment and therefore had an indirect effect. Family structure, in turn, also had a relationship with family conflict, and also only had an indirect effect. This finding suggests that while these factors do matter, they are heavily mediated by attachment style.
Bowlby, J. (1988). A secure base: Parent-child attachment and healthy human development. New York: Basic Books.
Golan, N. (1981). Passing through transitions: A guide for practitioners. New York: Free Press.
Hannum, J.W., & Dvorak, D.M. (2004). Effects of Family Conflict, Divorce, and Attachment Patterns on the Psychological Distress and Social Adjustment of College Freshman. Journal of College Student Development, 45(1), 27-42.
Hinderlie, H.H., & Kenny, M. (2002). Attachment, social support, and college adjustment among Black student at predominantly White universities. Journal of College Student Development, 43, 327-340.
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