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Parental bonding and adult psychopathology: results from the US National Comorbidity Survey

  • M. W. ENNS (a1), B. J. COX (a1) and I. CLARA (a1)

Background. Research using the parental bonding instrument (PBI) has suggested that lack of parental care and/or overprotection may be important risk factors for adult mental disorders. Much of this research, however, has relied on clinical populations with one or two disorders, or has used highly select community samples.

Method. The association between parenting experiences and the occurrence of 13 common mental disorders in adulthood was evaluated in the US National Comorbidity Survey (N = 5877). The effect of sociodemographic variables (age, education, income) was statistically controlled and the effects of six parenting variables (maternal and paternal care, overprotection and authoritarianism) were examined simultaneously. The effects in men and women were examined separately.

Results. Lack of care was the parenting variable most consistently associated with adult psychopathology. Parenting experiences with one's mother were more consistently associated with adult mental disorders. In general the impact of parenting was diagnostically non-specific. However, there appeared to be some unique effects for externalizing disorders (substance use disorders and antisocial personality disorder) in males; paternal overprotection and authoritarianism conferred a reduced risk of externalizing disorders in adult males. The overall impact of parenting as assessed by the PBI was modest, accounting for about 1 to 5% of the variance in the occurrence of adult mental disorders.

Conclusion. Parenting experiences, particularly lack of care, are potentially causally related in a non-specific manner to a wide variety of forms of adult psychopathology in both men and women. The overall magnitude of the effect is small but statistically significant in a nationally representative US sample.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Dr Murray W. Enns, PZ430 771 Bannatyne Avenue, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada R3E 3N4.
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Psychological Medicine
  • ISSN: 0033-2917
  • EISSN: 1469-8978
  • URL: /core/journals/psychological-medicine
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