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The Fathers' Affection Display in Contemporary Chinese Families

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It is a common perception that the Chinese fathers, influenced by the Confucian cultural traditions, play the role of stern, emotioally reserved disciplinarians in day-to-day interactions with their children. But to what extent does this hold in contemporary Chinese families? The present study aims to investigate the paternal affection display in contemporary Chinese families with pre-adolescent children in order to 1) to describe the quality and quantity of affection display by Chinese fathers to their children, 2) to investigate intra-cultural variance that is attributable to demographic factors and gender of the child and 3) to explore the relationship between paternal affection display and other related constructs.

Based on a multi-informant, multi-method dataset, it was found that Chinese fathers were reportedly warm and nurturant towards their children, and were motivated to develop and maintain close, intimate relationship with their children. However, these fathers were reserved in demonstrating their affection towards the children, and preferred to show it non-verbally or through instrumental display rather than using overt verbal statements. Fathers’ display of affection was significantly influenced by children’s behaviour in the immediate interactive context, as observed during the game tasks, and by contextual factors such as parental education, parental income and location of family residence. While fathers behaved equally warm towards sons and daughters, they were more expressive of their affection towards daughters, and were observed to show more negative affect towards sons. Moreover, paternal affection display was found closely knitted with various other constructs. Father involvement was a strong predictor of both fathers’ overall warmth and expression of affection, which, in turn, contribute to better father-child relationships.

These findings shed light on fathers’ emotion socialisation and child development through a sociocultural lens. The results highlight the influence of children’s behaviour and contextual factors on parenting behaviour, and call for the inclusion of both in future research.

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

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