Adaptive Significance of Personal Pronoun Use in Families of Adolescent Substance Abusers
AdvisorSbarra, David A.
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractA growing body of research suggests that patterns of personal pronoun use in couples - particularly we-talk (first person plural pronouns) and you-talk (second person pronouns) - are potentially meaningful markers of adaptive and maladaptive functioning, respectively. Despite this growing couple literature, very little is known about the relational implications of we-talk and you-talk in larger social units like families, where relevant interaction patterns are often triadic and involve members of different generations. The present study employed baseline observational and self-report data from a multi-site study of family therapy for adolescent substance drug abuse to (a) describe patterns of personal pronoun use in families consisting of two parent figures and at least one adolescent child, during conversations that had a collaborative (plan a menu) and a conflictual (discuss a recent argument) valence; and (b) explore associations between pronoun patterns and various indicators of adaptive adolescent and family functioning. As hypothesized, automated text analysis of transcripts from 74 English speaking families revealed more we-talk in the cooperative (menu) task, more you-talk and I-talk in the conflict (argument) task, and significant variations in pronoun frequency by family role (more I-talk by adolescents, more we-talk and you-talk by parents). Additional coding, guided by structural family systems theory, took into account the source and referent of each pronoun utterance (e.g., parent-parent we-talk, cross-generation you-talk), and these structural pronoun variables showed stronger associations with concurrently observed family interaction patterns than global (raw count) pronoun variables did. Contrary to expectation, you-talk was a stronger predictor of concurrent family behavior and adaptive youth/family functioning than we-talk, and associations between pronoun patterns and indicators of adaptive functioning were stronger for the conflict task than the cooperation task. The results suggest that relational meanings of pronouns are substantially more complex in triadic intergenerational family interactions than in dyadic romantic relationships. Discussion of these results includes study limitations and possible directions for further research.
Degree ProgramGraduate College