Nav: Home

Study of sisters helps explain dad's influence on risky sexual behavior

June 08, 2017

What is it about a father that affects his teenage daughter's likelihood of engaging in risky sexual behavior?

Researchers have long shown links between father involvement and daughters' sexual behavior, with the standard explanation attributing that influence to shared genes that impact both a father's behavior and relationships and his child's problem behavior, including engaging in risky sex and affiliating with delinquent peers.

But a new study led by a University of Utah researcher and published in Developmental Psychology suggests that even though genes likely play a part, they may not be the whole story.

By using pairs of sisters who spent differing amounts of time living with their fathers, the study was able to control for inherited genes and environmental conditions, such as socioeconomic status or religious background, to isolate the effects of fathering quality on daughters.

The results suggest a causal relationship between a father's behavior and his daughters' experiences: Different amounts of exposure to fathers of high or low quality changes daughters' social environments -- the monitoring they received and the peers with whom they affiliated -- in ways that can impact their sexual behavior.

"It's not enough for a dad to just be in the home," said Danielle J. DelPriore, a post-doctoral fellow in the University of Utah's department of psychology and lead author of the study. "The quality of a father's relationship with his daughter has implications for both the overall monitoring she receives from her parents as well as her likelihood of affiliating with more promiscuous or more prosocial friends."

The study compared the outcomes of older and younger full biological sisters who experienced the divorce or separation of their parents while growing up, and thus spent differing amounts of time living with their fathers. In divorced/separated families (including those in which the parents never married), the parents stopped living together before the younger sister turned age 14. Biologically intact families provided a control group in that the sisters in these families each lived with both parents into adulthood. The age difference between sisters in each group was at least four years.

The researchers theorized that in divorced/separated families, a father -- and how he behaved -- was likely to have exerted a stronger influence on an older daughter than a younger daughter since older daughters systematically received larger "doses" of dad's behavior.

That proved to be the case, for better or worse. The study found that older sisters with greater exposure to their fathers were strongly influenced by the quality of fathering they received. When fathering was high quality, parental monitoring was increased and older sisters were less likely to affiliate with sexually risky peers during adolescence compared to their younger sisters. The opposite effects were found for older sisters who spent many years living with a low-quality father.

Parental monitoring refers to parents' supervision over their children's lives, including their communication and knowledge about what a child is doing, who she is hanging out with, and how she spends her time and money. Research has shown that low parental monitoring is associated with increased drug and alcohol use, delinquency and other behavior problems.

The new study was co-authored by Bruce J. Ellis of the University of Utah and Gabriel L. Schlomer of the University of Albany, SUNY. Previous research by Ellis and Schlomer suggested a causal effect of fathering quality on daughters' risky sexual behavior, but did not examine how or why differences in quality translated into differences in a daughter's sexual behavior.

"We wanted to look into that 'black box' to see how a father's behavior might change daughters' environments in ways that promote or protect against risky sexual behavior," DelPriore said.

The findings suggest that the most effective programs for reducing adolescent females' risky sexual behavior might include components that both promote engagement with prosocial peers and aim to improve parenting skills, including parents' ability to effectively communicate with their teens.

"There is a lot of emphasis on the effects of divorce and parental separation on children, but this research shows that what may be more important, at least in this case, is what dad is doing while he is in the home," DelPriore said.
-end-


University of Utah

Related Behavior Articles:

Religious devotion as predictor of behavior
'Religious Devotion and Extrinsic Religiosity Affect In-group Altruism and Out-group Hostility Oppositely in Rural Jamaica,' suggests that a sincere belief in God -- religious devotion -- is unrelated to feelings of prejudice.
Brain stimulation influences honest behavior
Researchers at the University of Zurich have identified the brain mechanism that governs decisions between honesty and self-interest.
Brain pattern flexibility and behavior
The scientists analyzed an extensive data set of brain region connectivity from the NIH-funded Human Connectome Project (HCP) which is mapping neural connections in the brain and makes its data publicly available.
Butterflies: Agonistic display or courtship behavior?
A study shows that contests of butterflies occur only as erroneous courtships between sexually active males that are unable to distinguish the sex of the other butterflies.
Sedentary behavior associated with diabetic retinopathy
In a study published online by JAMA Ophthalmology, Paul D.
Curiosity has the power to change behavior for the better
Curiosity could be an effective tool to entice people into making smarter and sometimes healthier decisions, according to research presented at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association.
Campgrounds alter jay behavior
Anyone who's gone camping has seen birds foraging for picnic crumbs, and according to new research in The Condor: Ornithological Applications, the availability of food in campgrounds significantly alters jays' behavior and may even change how they interact with other bird species.
A new tool for forecasting the behavior of the microbiome
A team of investigators from Brigham and Women's Hospital and the University of Massachusetts have developed a suite of computer algorithms that can accurately predict the behavior of the microbiome -- the vast collection of microbes living on and inside the human body.
Is risk-taking behavior contagious?
Why do we sometimes decide to take risks and other times choose to play it safe?
Neural connectivity dictates altruistic behavior
A new study suggests that the specific alignment of neural networks in the brain dictates whether a person's altruism was motivated by selfish or altruistic behavior.

Related Behavior Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Anthropomorphic
Do animals grieve? Do they have language or consciousness? For a long time, scientists resisted the urge to look for human qualities in animals. This hour, TED speakers explore how that is changing. Guests include biological anthropologist Barbara King, dolphin researcher Denise Herzing, primatologist Frans de Waal, and ecologist Carl Safina.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#SB2 2019 Science Birthday Minisode: Mary Golda Ross
Our second annual Science Birthday is here, and this year we celebrate the wonderful Mary Golda Ross, born 9 August 1908. She died in 2008 at age 99, but left a lasting mark on the science of rocketry and space exploration as an early woman in engineering, and one of the first Native Americans in engineering. Join Rachelle and Bethany for this very special birthday minisode celebrating Mary and her achievements. Thanks to our Patreons who make this show possible! Read more about Mary G. Ross: Interview with Mary Ross on Lash Publications International, by Laurel Sheppard Meet Mary Golda...