KU study shows self-assured daughters reduce moms’ distress

Published: Aug. 1, 2020 at 4:48 PM CDT
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LAWRENCE, Kan. (WIBW) - A University of Kansas study is showing that self-assured daughters reduce the psychological stress of feminist mothers.

The University of Kansas says a recent study was conducted by Alesia Woszidlo, associate professor of communication studies, and her University of Georgia co-authors Analisa Arroyo and Anastacia Janovec. The school says the results of their study surveying data from 169 mother-daughter pairs of college-age daughters and middle-age mothers were published in the journal Communication Monographs.

Woszidlo says the study established the following:

  • The feminist attitudes of the mothers and daughters,
  • Their willingness to stand up for themselves — despite causing potential discomfort — in all sorts of relationships, which the authors of the study term “voice”
  • Their positive well-being, as well as the distress they felt in their daily lives.

Woszidlo says she and her co-authors are building on past research that shows psychological distress arises in women as a result of social expectations placed on them to establish and maintain close relationships. She says this event can be summed up in the phrase “silencing the self.”

The researchers say they expected feminist attitudes would be directly associated with positive psychological outcomes as well as one’s voice helping explain the relationship. They say they didn’t expect how important daughters’ voices would be in explaining their own and their mothers’ psychological outcomes.

“One of the things that we find particularly interesting is that a mother’s feminist attitude is associated with their daughter’s greater likelihood to voice, which, in turn, is associated with the daughter’s and mother’s reduced psychological distress,” Woszidlo said.  

“This suggests that holding a feminist attitude discourages the act of self-silencing and instead engages one’s voice, and consequently may result in less distress. Our results found this occurring on a dyadic level – meaning feminist mothers were experiencing positive psychological outcomes as a result of their daughters voicing up in their personal relationships.”

Woszidlo says the research theorizes that because young women that were part of the study are part of the fourth wave of feminism, often blurring public and private activism through the use of the internet and social media, it may be possible their voice is given more space to be heard, something that earlier waves of feminism may have been denied.

The authors say the significant relationships among feminist attitudes, voice and psychological outcomes have great implications for other groups of people that have been socialized to silence their voice and similar studies that examine associations between voice and well-being could be done with other marginalized populations.

“As an interpersonal communication scholar, I am fascinated by how people’s attitudes and personality are associated with the ways they communicate in their relationships, as well as, in this case, psychological outcomes,” Woszidlo said. “Voice is such a powerful variable and kind of an unstudied one when we look at quantitative communication research. It could really help us understand how communication in our personal relationships affects not only ourselves in positive ways, but others, as well.”

KU says the mother-daughter feedback loop of good feelings has the potential to reach out even further.

“As opposed to customary public and strategic actions (e.g., protests), investigating voice within close relationships offers the potential for challenging social justice issues in an immediate, intimate and impactful way,” write the authors. “Such relational/micro-level changes not only bode well for the individual and her well-being but they likely contribute to potential changes in others around her as well. That is, the cumulative effect of women asserting their voices is likely to contribute to broader social changes.”

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