Sources of Perceived Responsiveness in Family Relationships

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Abstract

Perceived responsiveness has become one of the most important constructs in the relationship sciences. It is central to the development of a secure attachment style, the experience of social support, an internal locus of control, and the sense of control in close relationships. Conversely, an unresponsive environment is associated with learned helplessness and depression. Viewed through the lens of the social relations model (SRM), perceived responsiveness in family relationships could have multiple sources: the perceiver; the target or partner; the perceiver–target relationship; and the family group. This study used the SRM to determine the relative importance of these sources of perceived responsiveness in the relationships of 207 two-parent two-child families. Characteristics of the perceiver and the target each accounted for about 25% of the systematic variance in perceived responsiveness, whereas the perceiver–target relationship accounted for approximately 48%. At the individual level of analysis, reciprocity of perceived responsiveness was pervasive in the family relationships of the two children. Regardless of age, young people who generally perceived others as responsive were generally perceived by others as responsive. At the dyadic level of analysis, reciprocity was present in two dyads: mother–father and older child–younger child. Reliable target variances support the view that perceived responsiveness is not just “inside the head” of the perceiver, and reciprocity correlations suggest potentially useful systemic interventions.

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