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Children's attributions of their severely mentally ill parent's symptomatic behavior: A retrospective study

Andrew Benjamin Bourke, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation study examined the causal attributions made by 30 adult children for their severely mentally ill parent's symptomatic behaviors. A retrospective methodology was used in order to explore the development of attributions from their first realization that their parent was behaving in a problematic manner to the present time. This study also explored the associations between attributions and participants' levels of coping and resiliency, as defined by their present functioning. The results of this study lend support to the use of an attributional framework in the study of children of the mentally ill. The data gathered using the Adult Children of the Mentally Ill-Attribution Scale (ACMI-AS) indicated reasonable internal consistency and expected intercorrelations of the attribution stems. A factor analysis of participants' responses to the ACMI-AS revealed three factors, including Internal to Self, Internal to Parent and Predictability. The data suggested that participants' attributions significantly changed from their initial realization of parental symptomatic behavior to the present time. The analysis indicated that maturity was not wholly responsible for the change in attributions. Rather, the subjective amount of information concerning mental illness as well as extra-familial support were significant contributing factors. The analyses between attributions and coping as well as between attributions and resiliency suggested a relationship between these variables. The data further suggested that attributions for parental control of the symptomatic behavior or personal control by the child were associated with increased psychopathology and lower self-esteem and self-efficacy in respondents. Attributions that highlighted predictability, external causation, and biological causation were associated with fewer somatic complaints and increased social self-efficacy.

Subject Area

Psychotherapy|Social psychology

Recommended Citation

Bourke, Andrew Benjamin, "Children's attributions of their severely mentally ill parent's symptomatic behavior: A retrospective study" (1998). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9841843.