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Recalled Coparenting Conflict, Paralysis of Initiative, and Sensitivity to Conflict during Late Adolescence

Author(s): James P McHale, Jean A Talbot, Steven Reisler

During late adolescence, interpersonal acuity and decisiveness are facilitative of transitions to emerging adulthood. Disruptions in these capacities may be traceable to phenomena evoked by origin family coparental conflict – paralysis of initiative and hypersensitivity to conflict. Documenting such connections can lead to more beneficial interventions for adolescents transitioning into adulthood. The aims of this study were to examine relationships between college freshmen’s reports of coparenting conflict in their origin families and (a) their immobility and indecision when faced with calls to action and (b) their hypersensitivity to signs of inter-adult conflict. Thirty-four freshmen (25 women and 9 men) rated their own coparents’ conflict dynamics and completed (a) a timed perceptual-motor challenge in which quick and deft action was essential to avoid failure; (b) the Rorschach inkblot test; and (c) a judgement task requiring ratings of and predictions about the interpersonal dynamics between unfamiliar adults portrayed in videos coparenting small children. Even controlling for the effects of self-reported depressive symptoms, significant links emerged between greater recalled coparenting conflict in the origin family and longer delays in initiating action in the perceptual-motor challenge; lower active-to-passive responses on the Rorschach; and attributions of more dissonant coparenting behavior in the videotaped family interactions. Results suggest that origin family coparental conflict may show ties to hypersensitivity to conflict and to indecisiveness in the face of calls to action. Implications for theory, research and practice are discussed.

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