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Restrictive Parenting and the Unintended Consequences of Moral Prohibitions

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Explanations based in attribution theory claim that strong external controls such as parental restrictiveness and punishment undermine moral internalization. In contrast, I will present studies providing evidence that parental punishment does socialize morality, but of a particular sort: a morality focused on prohibitions rather than positive obligations. Study 1 finds young adults’ accounts of parental restrictiveness and punishment activates their sensitivity to prohibitions—what Janoff-Bulman, Sheikh, & Hepp (2009) call a proscriptive orientation. Following theory on motivation and mental suppression, a proscriptive orientation has ironic effects: Studies 2 and 3 find that situational activation of a proscriptive orientation renders mental suppression of “prohibited” temptations more difficult and more ego-depleting, but only for those with restrictive parents. In contrast to common attributional explanations, these studies suggest that harsh external control by parents does not undercut moral socialization, but rather undermines individuals’ ability to resist temptation.

This talk is part of the Social Psychology Seminar Series (SPSS) series.

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