Parent-offspring similarity on five personality dimensions: Moderating effects of family dynamics

Date of Completion

January 1999


Psychology, Social|Psychology, Clinical|Psychology, Personality|Sociology, Individual and Family Studies




This study investigated how family dynamic variables moderate the personality traits of parents and their college-aged offspring. Specifically, interparental conflict, child-to-parent emotional attachment, and child-with-parent coalition, were examined as factors that might moderate a process of identification, or personality resemblance between the child and each parent. Identification of child with parent was represented by indices of parent-child similarity on each of the Big Five personality dimensions. ^ A consistent theme throughout this study was that emotional attachment to a given parent significantly contributed to the prediction of similarity to that parent with respect to personality traits. In addition, greater emotional attachment of the child both to mother and to father, was associated with the child having higher scores on Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, and Openness, and lower scores on Neuroticism. Interparental conflict was consistently a negative predictor of similarity between parent and child in personality; higher levels of conflict between parents predicted less parent-child identification, as indexed by similarity of personalities. Evidence was also established in this study for a process of de-identification from a parent, which seems to occur when a child is in a coalition against the parent in question. Comparing across gender, across five broad personality dimensions, across indices of overall personality traits, and across various statistical approaches to analysis, these results provide comprehensive evidence for psychodynamic and social learning approaches to understanding the effects of family dynamics on personality traits of parents and their children. That is, a child will more closely match a parent in personality traits if he or she is emotionally attached to that parent, not in coalition against that parent, and if conflict between the parents is low. Not supported by this study's findings was a rival hypothesis, following from a behavior-genetic approach to personality development. Finally, results from this study highlight the importance of examining gender differences when comparing children and parents on personality dimensions, and when examining the effects of family dynamics on parent-child identification. Implications for future research on family dynamics and personality resemblance among family members were discussed. ^