Study measures impact of parental control on stress

The UVM psychology department is measuring the impact parents have on students’ relationships with their peers.

Assistant psychology professor Jamie Abiaed teamed up with developmental psychology graduate student Caitlin Wagner to research whether UVM students who have stress-inducing parents are more likely to react to stressful situations with their peers.

The student participants were recruited from introductory psychology courses and were asked to participate in a series of tasks designed to monitor their bodies’ involuntary reactions to stress, Abiaed said.

Students were asked to recount a particularly stressful moment that occurred recently in their life, such as a fight with a friend or a breakup with a significant other, she said.

“When something scares you or stresses you out, your heart starts racing, your palms sweat, your pupils dilate,” Abiaed said. “We measured the sweat component with instruments that allow us to see increase in sweat secretion which tell us the sympathetic nervous system is elevated.”

After measuring the stu- dents’ reactions to stress-inducing experiences, they were asked about the relationships they have with their parents to see if the degree of stress in their peer relationships correlated with the amount of stress in their parental ones, she said.

“Our findings suggest that when parents try to psychologically manipulate their college student children’s thoughts and emotions, they may in turn teach their children how to manipulate peer relationships with relational aggression,” Wagner said.

Junior Rachel Benjamin said she does not think her parents are overbearing.

“They sometimes nag me about schoolwork,” Benjamin said. “If I’m stressed out about school it can affect how I talk to my friends, so I can definitely see how the two could correlate.”

Sophomore Annie Reagan said she could see how a stressful relationship with parents could create difficulties in other relationships.

“Since you grow up learning from your parents, it would make sense that you could develop negative ways to deal with the people around you,” Reagan said. “Luckily my parents have always been really supportive, so I think I was taught positive ways to react to stressful situations.”

The findings of the study could be a lesson for parents that would help them make their relationship with their children less stressful, Abiaed said.

“I’m sympathetic to the parents, it’s possible that for some of them their heart is in the right place, but the execution is off for their child’s development,”she said.

Abiaed highlighted the importance for college students to experience independence.

“Psychological control is problematic for adolescents, but even more so for college students because they should be experiencing independence,” she said. “I think there are other ways to get involved in their child’s life.”