UEL R&KE Conference, 2013
Session 5:
`Valuing & championing young people’
Rebelliousness & attachment difficulties as
legacies of parental neglect in childhood
Mark R. McDermott
Nilupa B. Barik
UEL School
of Psychology
Rebelliousness defined
`…wanting or feeling compelled to
do something contrary to that
required by some external agency’
(Apter, 1982) p.198)
to oppose a perceived requirement
The prevalence of rebellious experience
Balswick & Macrides (1975)
asked 400 college students:
…how rebellious as teenagers had you felt
toward parents & other authorities?
1 in 5 (20%) said `very’ or `extremely’
only 14% of males & 21% of females said
`not at all’
Cultural exemplars (?) – a random sample
2011 UK riots; Occupy London 2011-12; Gezi Park,
2013; Tiananmen Square, 1989; Poll Tax Riots – 1990
& 1381 (Peasant’s Revolt); Greenham Common
Women’s Peace Camp 1982/84; Femen; Pussy Riot;
Protestant non-conformism 1555, in E15,18 executed;
the Venetian interdict 1605-7; whistle blowing; The
Origin of Species; lower case & ee cummings; the
blank page in `Tristram Shandy’ (1759); gorilla
gardening; dissent & the DSM5; Robert Edwards, IVF
pioneer; H-Block hunger strikers; Emmeline
Pankhurst; Vivien Westwood; Kurt Cobain; John
McEnroe; Erdem Gunduz; Voltaire; Nelson Mandela
…rebellion as reaction to unjust authority
`Standing Man’ (Erdem Gunduz )protest
reaches Turkish embassy in Milan
…collectively defining a situation as unjust
• Gamson, Fireman & Rytina (1982)
• Cultural exemplar: `kettling’
Linguistic representations
(Human rights) Activist
Freedom fighter
Prosocial vs antisocial rebellion
…`far more, and far more hideous, crimes
have been committed in the name of
obedience than have ever been committed
in the name of rebellion’
C.P. Snow (1961)
Serious, reactive rebellion & playful, proactive rebellion…(?)
Theoretically understanding the
antecedents of rebelliousness
• Socio-situationally (interpersonally):
models of social influence (Kelman; Deutsch & Gerard; Milgram)
• Developmentally (ontologically):
models of attachment (Bowlby; Ainsworth)
• Personality (dispositionally):
models of individual differences (Costa & McCrae)
• Phenomenologically (experientially):
models of motivation (Apter)
Attachment difficulties defined
Recurrent difficulties forming and
maintaining emotionally close
& trusting relationships with others
What we did, in short…
• Self-report questionnaire measures of :
…Proactive & reactive rebelliousness (DVs)
…Attachment style in adulthood (IVs)
…Recalled parenting style (IVs)
…Demographic information (IVs)
• Respondents:
35 women, 45 men,
(18-50 yrs; mean = 25 yrs., sd 7.45)
A bit more re the measures
• DVs: Social Reactivity Scale – Rebelliousness (proactive & reactive)
(McDermott & Apter, 1987)
• Revised Adult Attachment Scale (comfortable with closeness; can depend
on others; fear of abandonment) (Collins, 1996)
• Parental Style (indifferent; abusive; controlling) (Parker et al, 1997)
• Family Relationships in Childhood Q’nnaire (antipathy; neglect)
Questionnaire Version-3 derived from the `Childhood
Experience of Care & Abuse interview’ – CECA;
Bifulco, 2011)
Example questionnaire items
Indifferent: s/he was uninterested in me…
Abusive: made me feel unsafe…
Over controlling: over controlling of me…
Antipathy: did not like me as much as my brother/sister..
Neglect: leave me unsupervised before I was 10 years old…
Findings: re attachment
1. Self-reported parental neglect is independently
associated with feeling uncomfortable with
closeness & intimacy (`insecure attachment’)
2. Being uncomfortable with closeness & intimacy
independently of other variables correlates with
proactive and reactive rebelliousness
Findings: re parenting
1. Retrospective reports of maternal & paternal
`neglect’ independently covary with proactive &
reactive rebelliousness
2. Maternal indifference independently covaries
with reactive rebelliousness
3. Paternal indifference, and abusive parenting
style are independently associated with selfreported proactive rebelliousness in adulthood
Tentative model
1. Parental neglect & indifference are forms of
childhood adversity that constitute antecedents of
both the sensation seeking form of rebelliousness
(proactive) & the disaffected form (reactive) in
2. Such adversity also is related to feelings of
discomfort in adult relationships which in turn may
also fuel nonconformity in adulthood.
Broader context & implications
• These findings are similar to those of Bifulco and
others re the relationship between childhood
experience of care & abuse (CECA) and
measures of antisocial behaviour
• The pervasiveness of childhood adversity is
concerning since it may underpin a concomitant
prevalence of disaffection, `trait’ rebelliousness
and antisocial behaviour in adulthood
Illustrating the pervasiveness of childhood adversity
Bifulco (1994) randomly sampled 300 mothers from GP
registers in north London.
She asked them whether they had experienced any one of
three kinds of abuse before the age of 17: neglect, physical,
or sexual abuse.
29% (nearly 1 in 3) reported having experienced one of
these three forms of adversity before age 17.
Bifulco found such adversity was associated with double
the chance of depression in adult life.
WHO (2013): 1 in 3 women abused by partner
The Big Question
Does parental neglect and indifference in
childhood in part fuel readiness to cross the
line between engaging in legitimate protest
against unjust authority versus engaging in
unprincipled and sometimes unlawful acts of
‘oppositional’ behaviour?
…a longitudinal study is needed!
So, impacts, policy & where to `nudge’?
• Support for active parenting – Sure Start
• Parentline – for those blessed & blasted in equal measure
• Early education – disseminating the enormity of Thorndike’s
`Law of Effect’
• Evidence-based support for volatile partnerships (eg the
Gottman Institute)
• Employers supporting `work/family’ balance
• Reducing inequality (as after Wilkinson)
• Valuing `psychodiversity’ (see next slide)
Prologue to this tale of rebelliousness
Rebelliousness/conformity is not
a `Good/Bad’ dichotomy
Getting stuck in one or other state is a Bad Idea
Moving flexibly between these two and other states
is a Good Thing (ie mental health)
and is… `psychodiversity’
…hopefully we are not in a conceptual hole
but it is time to stop digging…
Indicative bibliography…+ Q&A