Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Mary L. Kelley


Because of the potentially serious consequences associated with parent-adolescent conflict, researchers have delineated variables (i.e., communication skills deficits) that might escalate conflict. Despite the theoretical support for the role of cognitive variables in parent-adolescent conflict, this area has received little research attention. In contrast, studies using adult subjects have repeatedly demonstrated a relationship between cognitive variables, (i.e., attributions) and conflict behaviors and relationship dissatisfaction. Researchers have found that distressed spouses tend to emphasize aversive spousal behaviors by attributing them to global and stable causes that reside within their spouses. Additionally, they perceive negative behavior as intentional, selfishly motivated, and blameworthy. The purpose of this study was to determine whether similar negative attributions are present among mothers and teenagers who tend to engage in frequent and intense conflicts. One hundred and fifteen mothers and 122 teenagers who were randomly selected from a university affiliated laboratory school participated. Each subject completed self-report measures of conflict and a measure of attributions, which was designed for this study. Analyses revealed that as attributions were more negative, conflict increased. When subjects were divided into low and high conflict dyads, compared to low conflict subjects, high conflict subjects made consistently more negative attributions about one another's behaviors. Step-wise regression analyses indicated that beliefs that causes of negative behavior were global and resided within the other member of the dyad were the best predictors of self-reported conflict. Beliefs that the other member of the dyad should be blamed for his/her behavior was the best predictor of conflict reported by the other member of the dyad. Finally, results showed that frequent aversive behaviors and high levels of associated anger were related to more negative attributions. However, no relationship was found between high conflict mothers' attributions and their report of anger. Clinical implications of these data are discussed.