A test of interactional power theory : the effects of sibling-status upon dependence, power, and influence success in sibling pairs

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The application of interactional power theory to sibling relationships was tested in a study of sibling pairs in middle childhood. Hypotheses were posed about sibling-status effects upon influence success, power, and dependence. Hypotheses were also posed for correlations among these variables, which correlations were expected irrespective of the sibling-status of the children in the sibling pairs. Hypotheses about dependence-based power, which stated that a child's power would be determined by the sibling's dependence upon him for good play outcomes, was the major tenet of interactional theory to be tested. Closely age-spaced sibling pairs were grouped by position, sex, and sex-of-sibling to form the eight cells of the 2x2x2 factorial design. One child in each pair influenced the other to eat mildly bitter crackers, yielding an influence success score. Each child also filled out a questionnaire designed to measure variables related to the child's general experience of dependence and power in the sibling relationship. The scales formed from this questionnaire were newTy devised and lacked demonstrated reliability and validity. The hypothesized sibling-status effects were not obtained in the influence procedure. One significant but oppositely predicted effect was obtained; children with a brother had greater influence success than children with a sister. This was not due to a sex-linked willingness for boys to eat more crackers than girls. Behaviors of the influencing children were interpreted to indicate that some of them reacted in a highly competitive fashion. The younger children in the pairs and the children with a brother appeared to form a stronger alliance with the investigator and then to use this alliance to pursue their influence attempts more vigorously. This account explained the unexpected sex-of-sibling effect and the expected but missing position effect. The influence procedure was not a measure of relative power but was a measure of how much the usually overpowered sibling seized the competitive possibilities offered by the situation. Sibling pairs differed from non-sibling peer pairs by reacting more competitively to this investigative procedure. No relationships were obtained between the questionnaire scales and influence success. On the questionnaire, older children in the pairs reported more usable power in the relationship than did the younger children. Children in same-sex pairs reported more affinity with the sibling (perceived similarity, play, friendship, and dependence) than did children in cross-sex pairs. Boys and children with sisters reported more power, while boys and children with brothers reported more affinity; these sex-of-child and sex-of-sibling effects were small, inconsistent, and inconclusive. Older children in same-sex pairs reported more affinity and less power than older children in cross-sex pairs. In cross-sex pairs wide differences in power (O > Y) and in affinity (Y > O) were obtained. In same-sex pairs the older and younger reported equal affinity and there was a muting of the reported power difference (O > Y). Greater conflict and greater development of counterpower in the more cohesive same-sex pairs were concluded to have led to this muted power difference. Tests of the dependence-based-power hypothesis were inconclusive. Neither influence success nor reported power showed the sibling-status results expected for dependence-based power. The empirical viability of this theoretical construct was questioned. The assumption that the sibling's dependence determines the child's power was not supported. The questionnaire responses were judged to support other aspects of interactional power theory. Overall, the results of the study were more simply explained by assuming that characteristics associated with sibling-status determine both a child's dependence and his power in the sibling relationship.



This thesis was digitized as part of a project begun in 2014 to increase the number of Duke psychology theses available online. The digitization project was spearheaded by Ciara Healy.



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