An investigation of complexity of reasoning and transactive dialogue behaviour in parents' and adolescents' socio-political discussions
AbstractThere has been no observational investigation of parental socialization of adolescent political thinking reported in the developmental literature to date. Following Berkowitz and Gibbs‘ (1983) work on moral development and dialogue, the techniques of integrative complexity of reasoning and transactive dialogue analysis were applied to mother-adolescent political discussions. Adolescent’s age and gender, family parenting styles, and family communication patterns were expected to affect the quality or nature of these discussions. In turn, variations in the discussions were anticipated to inﬂuence adolescents’ subsequent integrative complexity of reasoning (IC) scores on a post-test. An equal number of male and female younger adolescents (aged 12-15 years) and older adolescents (aged 16-19 years) and their mothers were randomly assigned to an experimental (N = 24) or a control condition (N=24). All mother- adolescent dyads completed a pre-test and a post-test interview on two political topics, which were scored for integrative complexity of reasoning. Between the pre-tests and post-tests, the experimental mother-adolescent dyads participated in a discussion of one of these socio-political issues in order to investigate the dyad’s transactive dialogue behaviour and the effects that a discussion intervention might have on adolescents’ complexity scores. Questionnaires designed to evaluate parenting styles and family communication patterns within the home, as well as affective responses to the discussions, were administered. The results indicated that maternal discussions with younger and older adolescents, and with males versus females, were somewhat different in quality. Using Berkowitz and Gibbs’ transactive dialogue scoring procedure, older adolescents in the experimental group were found to generate more higher-order transacts (operants) than younger adolescents, as predicted. It was also found that males received more challenging, higher-order operants from mothers than did females. Females, on the other hand, received lower-order types of transacts, indicative of more collaborative or co-operative discussions, as expected based on previous work. Consistent with expectations, when the experimental group adolescents were analyzed separately, post-test IC scores were signiﬁcantly higher than pre- test IC scores, suggesting gains following the intervention. Furthermore, there were no signiﬁcant differences between pre-test and post-test IC scores for control group adolescents. However, the predicted interaction of group by time of testing for integrative complexity of adolescents’ political reasoning was not signiﬁcant in the overall analysis of variance. This suggests that the impact of the discussion intervention was somewhat ambiguous. Some associations were reported for parenting styles with IC and transactive dialogue behaviour, but the patterns were complex in relation to hypotheses. However, greater maternal use of higher-order operants was consistently associated with a more authoritarian parenting style. As predicted, when family communication patterns were investigated, adolescents in concept- oriented families were found to have higher IC scores. Affective responses toward the discussions were not found to be related to parenting styles, whereas concept-oriented communication styles were found to be positively linked to better feelings about the discussion, as expected. Several explanations, such as the underlying dynamics of the discussion and the asymmetrical power relation between mothers and adolescents, are offered to interpret the ﬁndings.