Project Overview

The project was started by Linda Bell in 1974 with a commitment to four primary goals:

  1. To study the relationship between family process and the individual development of family members, especially children.
  2. To conceptualize and measure system-level variables to describe family structure and process.
  3. To develop micro-analytic (phrase-by-phrase coding) and macro-analytic measures of interaction process. (And, in general to create and use less obvious, more indirect measures of family system variables.)
  4. To study a population of normal (i.e., non-clinical) families.

Wave 1 Home Interviews

In 1975 and 1976, structured home interviews were conducted with 99 middle-class families with adolescents. The home interview included marital and family revealed difference exercises, and a projective family task, the Family Paper Sculpture, created for the project. Marital and family interaction process were coded on two coding schemes (micro-analytic and global) which were also created as part of the project. In the 1980s similar home interviews were conducted in Japan with 60 Japanese families with adolescents.

Wave 2 Telephone Interviews

From 1998 to 2002, telephone interviews were conducted with 174 now adult former adolescents (G2s) and 132 of their parents (G1s). These interviews focused on adult child - elder parent relationships and on mid-life psychological well-being. Similar telephone interviews were completed in 2013 with former adolescents and parents from the Japanese families.

Wave 3 Marital Interviews with Elder Couples

Home interview were conducted (2000-2002) with 42 couples (G1s) who were parents in the Wave 1 home interviews, couples now elderly. The marital home interviews included a repeat of a marital revealed difference exercise from Wave 1 as well as questions about the challenges and supports they had in their marriage and their ideas about the qualities which support a successful lifelong marriage. They also fill out questionnaires describing their parents' marriages and parenting.

Wave 3 Family Interviews

Home interviews were conducted (1999-2010) with 90 families of the (now adult) adolescents from the original study (G2), with their own teenage children (G3). The family home interview was basically a repeat of the Wave 1 interview, with the people who were adolescents at Wave 1 being the parents at Wave 2. Additions to the Wave 1 interview included the Ryff Psychological Well-Being scale, Loevinger's sentence completion measure of ego development and attachment for all family members, and parental retrospectives on their families of origin and on their own parents' marriages and parenting.


We have focused on the importance of two factors (the family climate and the adolescent's role in the family) on the adolescent's individual development and peer relationships. Central family systems variables are Connection (affection, trust) and Individuation (respect, autonomy) processes. We have also conducted cross-cultural studies of marriage and family, comparing Japanese and US families. Methodological analyses of interaction process measures and cross-cultural research methods have been conducted. Recent and on-going analyses are focusing on (1) the effects of the adolescent family experience on mid-life well-being, (2) mid-life relationships between adult (G2) children and their elder parents (G1), (3) Effects on late life health and well being of earlier marital functioning and relationships with adult children, (4) intergenerational marital and family patterns and how these patterns support the well-being of children (G3), and (5) the results of parental intent to create families different from those in which they grew up.


The project has received financial support over the years from the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health, the Japanese National Institute of Mental Health, the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, the Japan Foundation, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, the University of Chicago, the Family Institute at Northwestern University, the University of Houston - Clear Lake, and Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI).