Abstract

In this study, the effect of parental relationships and priming on ratings of a fictional relationship were examined.Sixty-three Mount Holyoke College students between the ages of 18 and 23, were assigned to four conditions (married parents-positive prime, married parents-negative prime, divorced parents-positive prime, and divorced parents-negative prime). After receiving the positive or negative prime, each participant was asked to read and evaluate a description of a neutral relationship. An independent groups ANOVA was run and it was found that participants who received a negative prime rated the neutral relationship more positively than those who received a positive prime. This suggests that the positive prime was actually perceived as a negative prime and vice versa, as subjects were comparing the priming paragraph to the neutral paragraph.In future studies, the presentation of the primes and the manner of recruitment of participants should be altered.††

Hypothesis

It is hypothesized that subjects who receive a positive prime will rate a fictional relationship more positively than those who receive a negative prime.Subjects from married homes may tend to rate a fictional relationship more positively then subjects from divorced homes regardless of the prompt they receive.Additionally, the prompt may have more of an effect on the evaluation of the relationship by the children from married homes than on the children from divorced homes.

Participants

Subjects were all female students attending Mount Holyoke College between the ages of 18 and 23.

 

Materials

The materials for this study included: one screening questionnaire, one negative prime, one positive prime, one neutral description of a relationship, one questionnaire pertaining to the primes and the neutral description of a relationship, and a debriefing statement.

Procedure

Students were asked to participate in an experiment studying perceptions of relationships.Participants were told that the experiment would measure their ability to accurately perceive the quality of a fictional relationship. Any student interested in participating signed an informed consent form and was given a screening questionnaire. This was used to divide the subject pool into two groups: those with married parents and those with divorced parents. Subjects who were placed in the divorced category were those subjects whose parents are legally divorced.Subjects who were placed in the married category are those whose parents have been continuously married and who have a happy relationship.Once the two parental relationship groups were established, the students were randomly assigned to one of two conditions: positive or negative prime. Each participantís assigned priming condition, as well as their natural relationship group, was recorded. Thus, the four conditions of the experiment were: divorced-negative, divorced-positive, married-negative, and married-positive.

Subjects received a packet containing either the description of a positive relationship or the description of a negative relationship and a questionnaire pertaining to the prime, as well as the description of the neutral relationship and a second questionnaire pertaining to the neutral relationship description.Subjects were instructed to read the descriptions of the relationships and fill out the subsequent questionnaires, but were told that they may not refer back to the description while completing the questionnaires. After the subject completed the packet, they were given a debriefing statement and verbally debriefed. Upon completion, the questionnaires were collected and scored.

Results

An independent groups ANOVA was used to determine if parental relationships (married or divorced) and priming (positive or negative) had a significant effect on the rating of a fictional, neutral relationship. There was no main effect for parental relationship, F(1,62)= 0.752, Mse = 26.026, p > 0.05.Subjects with married parents (M=.8825) did not rate the neutral relationship differently than subjects with divorced parents (M=2.4286). There was a significant main effect for priming, which showed that participants who received a negative prime (M= 3.3437) rated the neutral relationship much more positively then those who received a positive prime (M= -.9032), F(1,62)= 8.456, Mse = 292.833, p < 0.05. There was no interaction effect between parental relationship and priming F(1,62)= 0.878, Mse = 30.404, p > 0.05.

Discussion

The results from this study did not support the hypothesis.While a significant main effect was found for priming, the opposite of what was hypothesized was observed.It was hypothesized that a positive prime would cause participants to rate the neutral relationship more positively while the negative prime would cause participants to rate the neutral relationship more negatively.However, subjects who received the negative prime rated the neutral relationship very positively, and subjects who received the positive prime rated the relationship more negatively.

There was no main effect for parental relationships.While there was a slight difference in the manner in which participants rated the neutral relationship when they received a negative prime, this difference was not significant, and participants who received the positive prime rated the neutral relationship the same regardless of parental marital status.

These results could have been obtained in part through shortcomings in the experimental design.The great discrepancy in the manner in which participants rated the neutral relationship suggests that perhaps the neutral relationship was not neutral enough or that the primes were not effective.Finally, participants mentioned that rather than being influenced by the primes, they were using the first paragraph as a means for comparison for the second paragraph.Perhaps, instead of presenting the participants of two paragraphs of equal length, the prime should be a shorter, stronger paragraph that does not present a relationship, but a broader theory or idea about relationships in general, leaving no room for comparison.

Another reason for these results might have stemmed from a lack of participants in the divorced condition.Because one of the independent variables relied on natural groups, it was difficult to equally assign participants to each of the conditions.This caused an imbalance between the two groups which may have skewed the results.The experimenters should have advertised for students from divorced homes or found another manner to recruit participants equally.