How a man handles everyday stressors like traffic jams and work deadlines may depend, in part, on how he felt about his dad while growing up, new research suggests.
"The message is that father-son relationships are incredibly powerful. When they're healthy, it's hugely protective for boys," said study lead author Melanie Mallers, an assistant professor at California State University at Fullerton, US.
In the study, Mallers and colleagues surveyed 912 adult men and women - aged 25 to 74 - by phone about their stress levels over eight days. They also asked how the participants got along with their parents as children.
Previous research has shown that lack of affection from mothers has a "profound impact" on kids, Mallers said. But research into fathers has been lacking, so the study authors explored their role too.
They found that people were more likely to report good relationships with their mothers than with their fathers. Sons were more likely than daughters to say that they got along with their mothers.
"Moms were very important to both men and women - their sons and daughters - in terms of general mood," Mallers said. "Both men and women who had poor relationships with their moms in childhood were more likely to be in a bad mood."
4% increase in stress
But what about dads? The team found that men who reported poorer relationships with their fathers were 4% more likely than other men to report encountering stress during the day. They were also more likely, by an undetermined amount, to develop a bad mood or health problems after encountering daily stress.
The difference may sound small, "but it's enough to really affect your quality of life," according to Mallers.
The study findings were presented at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association in San Diego, US.
'Little warmth from father'
Men who tended to react negatively to everyday stressors reported that as children "they had very little warmth from their father, little support and affection. They weren't physically present for them and didn't make them feel confident," Mallers said. "They weren't involved in their lives overall."
She said it seems unlikely that the more stressed-out participants had poorer relationships with their fathers as children because their own personalities made it difficult for bonds to develop.
But she acknowledged that the study doesn't prove cause-and-effect, and it's possible that another factor could explain a link between adult responses to stress and father-son relationships. More research would could shed additional light on the subject, she said.
The researchers conceded that the study had some limitations. For one thing, it only included adults raised by a male-female couple and it relied on individual memories of childhood experiences, which may have been biased.
Louise Silverstein, a psychology professor at Yeshiva University in New York City who's familiar with the study results, cautioned that they shouldn't be "over-interpreted," especially in light of other research that shows that "boys do not need role models in order to become healthy men." - (Randy Dotinga, August 2010)
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