-Written by Katie Little ’18
As discussed in earlier blog posts, personality traits are enduring patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors (McCrae & Costa, 1997). Because of the stability of personality traits over the lifespan, some psychologists believe that personality traits can predict how people behave in certain circumstances. For example, Belsky, Crnic, and Woodworth (1995) proposed that three personality traits could be linked to parenting behaviors in mothers and fathers. These three traits were as follows:
- Agreeableness: How easy are you to get along with?
- Neuroticism: How often do you experience negative emotions?
- Extraversion: How often do you experience positive emotions?
In order to test these relationships, the researchers recruited 69 couples in central Pennsylvania. All of the couples were first-time parents. The researchers gave each of the mothers and fathers the NEO Personality Inventory to measure personality traits. To measure parenting behaviors, the researchers observed the couples’ interactions with their babies for two 1-hour periods. These observation periods took place when the babies were between 15 and 21 months old. The observers visited the families at their homes in the late afternoon or early evening when both parents would be at home and common daily routines, such as serving dinner or putting the baby to bed, were occurring. Parents were instructed to go about their normal household routine and pretend that the researchers were not there.
The researchers were interested in both “positive” parenting behaviors, such as knowledge of the child’s needs and trying to incorporate learning into playtime, and “negative” parenting behaviors, such as detachment, or lack of involvement with the child, and intrusiveness, or ignoring the child’s goals in favor of the parent’s agenda. The observers in this experiment wrote long, detailed hand-written notes, which were then turned into scores for each behavior. A score of 5 meant that a behavior was “a-great-deal present,” and a score of 1 meant that a behavior was not present at all.
By comparing the personality measures to the parenting behavior scores, the researchers found several patterns. For example, women with high degrees of neuroticism showed less positive parenting behaviors than other women in their interactions with their babies. Women high in extraversion were more likely to show positive parenting behaviors than other women in their interactions with their babies. Women high in agreeableness were more likely to show positive parenting behaviors than other women.
For men, neuroticism was linked to both lower degrees of positive parenting behaviors and higher degrees of negative parenting behaviors. This finding differs from the relationship between neuroticism and parenting for mothers because neuroticism was not linked with negative parenting behaviors for mothers. Additionally, fathers with high levels of extraversion were more likely to show positive parenting behaviors. While agreeableness was consistently linked with mothers’ parenting behaviors, this relationship was less consistent with fathers’ parenting behaviors.
Interestingly, the relationships between personality traits and parenting behaviors were consistently stronger for mothers than for fathers. The researchers provided one theory as to why this finding occurred. Traditionally, women have identified more with household-related tasks, and men have identified more with work-related tasks. It may be possible that because the home domain is at the forefront of a woman’s life, her personality traits are more related to tasks like parenting, and men’s personality traits may be more related to workplace-related tasks. While these gender role norms are slowly changing, the theory remains a plausible explanation as to why this discrepancy between men and women exists.
This study is important to consider because it provides further evidence that personality traits may influence the lives of men and women differently (For more examples: http://davidsonmaplab.com/blog/can-personality-traits-predict-postnatal-depression-in-mothers-and-fathers/ or http://davidsonmaplab.com/blog/sex-differences-in-the-big-five-personality-traits-across-cultures/). Future research should continue to investigate these gender differences because much of the literature on this topic is dated and should be updated to reflect contemporary attitudes about gender and gender roles.
Belsky, J., Crnic, K., & Woodworth, S. (1995). Personality and parenting: Exploring the mediating role of transient mood and daily hassles. Journal of Personality, 63(4), 905-929.
McCrae, R.R. & Costa, P.T., (1997). Conceptions and correlates of openness to experience. In R. Hogan, J. Johnson, & S. Briggs (Eds.), Handbook of personality psychology (825-847). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.