Selected Articles (Research)

(20) Bell, L. G. (in press). A Prospective Longitudinal Study of Family from Generation to Generation. The Family Journal.
This study explores the effects of family system characteristics on the children's families when they grow up and become parents themselves. Family systems have profound effects for individual family members. The study addresses the question of whether or not these effects continue into the next generation by influencing the families created by adult children. Also evaluated is the extent to which parental intentions to make specific changes can be successful. Families in two generations participated in home interviews during the midlife/adolescent family life cycle stage. During home interviews at both waves, family members completed a questionnaire describing their family. They then discussed differences of opinion about the family and jointly created a projective 'picture' of their family. Both family members' reports and coded measures from the family interaction process supported a continuity between family of origin characteristics and the next generation's families. Evidence was also found for the ability of both mothers and fathers to purposely change particular family characteristics to achieve better connection, more individuation, and less conflict in their families.
(19) Bell, L. G. and Harsin, A. (2018). A Prospective Longitudinal Study of Marriage from Midlife to Later Life. Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice, 7, 12-21.
This prospective longitudinal study explores the relationship between marital functioning at midlife and marital functioning in later life as measured by the coding of marital interaction process. Couples participated in home interviews at midlife, then again 25 years later. During home interviews at both waves, couples completed a questionnaire describing their family, then discussed differences of opinion about the family. Discussions were coded on global scales. Marital functioning is defined here by connection and individuation in the marital relationship. Connection processes focus on affection and a supportive family climate, nurturing trust and self-esteem. Individuation focuses on respect and clear interpersonal boundaries within the family, nurturing personal autonomy and self-differentiation. There were significant relationships between marital functioning at midlife and connection and individuation in later life. In particular, connection at midlife was positively related to warmth/support and clear interpersonal boundaries in later life, and negatively related to depression in later life. Individuation at midlife was negatively related to both overt and covert conflict in later life. Overall, there was also increased marital functioning from midlife to later life for this cohort. Increased functioning included more warmth/support, clearer interpersonal boundaries, more comfort with differences, and less covert conflict. There was no significant change for depression, humor, overt conflict, or problem-solving effectiveness.
(18) Bell, D. C. and Bell, L. G. (2018). Accuracy of retrospective reports of family environment. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 27, 1029-1040.
Retrospective reports of family environments are often the only way to collect data concerning the early influence of family experience on later development and behavior. However, the accuracy of retrospective measures can be problematic because of potential failures of memory or bias introduced by current mood or social desirability. In this study, parents and adolescent children described their family environment, and then 25 years later completed retrospective reports. Effects of memory, positivity, current mood, gender, and age are tested, as well as the relative predictive value of current and retrospective reports. Results suggest that the retrospective reports of the family are basically accurate in that they significantly predict the prospective report, with women's reports being more accurate than men's, and elder parents' reports being more accurate than their adult children's reports. However, retrospective scores do not give the same predictions of adult outcomes as do prospective scores.
(17) Bell, L. D. and Bell, D. C. (2016). Covert assessment of the family system: Patterns, pictures and codes. Journal of Methods and Measurement in the Social Sciences, 7, 95-121.
Covert measures of the family system can tap concepts and discover patterns of which family members themselves are unaware and can avoid social desirability bias. Covert measures can be particularly useful in cross-cultural research and can avoid many pitfalls of language and translation. Three such measures which have been used cross-culturally are described. The first is a method of measuring triangulation of children by the parents based on patterns of agreement in a true-false questionnaire describing the family. The second is a projective measure in which family members as a group create a picture of their family distinguishing relationships between individuals and boundaries within and around the family. The third is a global coding scheme used to evaluate family processes from taped interaction
(16) Bell, L. G. (2015). Adolescent family affects adult wellbeing in Japan and the U.S. Archives of Scientific Psychology, 3, 138-149.
Grounded in family systems theory, this prospective longitudinal study explores the effects of characteristics of the family system in which an adolescent develops on later midlife wellbeing and adult child/elder parent relationships in Japan and the United States. Structured home interviews were held in the 1970s with 99 middle class U.S. families with adolescents; an equivalent interview was conducted in the 1980s with 59 comparable Japanese families. Family members discussed differences of opinion on a family environment scale; family system variables related to connection and individuation processes were coded from these taped family discussions. Twenty-five years after the home interviews, telephone interviews were conducted in the U.S. with 67 elder mothers, 59 elder fathers, 126 then midlife daughters and 61 midlife sons. In Japan follow-up telephone interviews were conducted with 22 elder mothers, 20 elder fathers, 26 midlife daughters and 21 midlife sons. The results support the importance of family experience during adolescence for wellbeing in adulthood across cultures. Family connection led to more reported respect by elder fathers in both countries; this was particularly true for Japanese fathers. U.S. elder fathers reported more affection from adult children when the family was higher in individuation.
(15) Bell, L. D. & D. C. Bell. (2012). Positive Relationships which Support Elder Health and Wellbeing are Grounded in Midlife/Adolescent Family. Family and Community Health, 35, 276-286.
Family is potentially a major support system for people of all ages. It can become particularly important for elders. Based on a 25-year longitudinal study, this paper explores the contributions of family system functioning at parents' midlife to elder physical and mental health. Findings support the significant influence of the quality of the midlife/adolescent family life cycle stage on later life relationships between elder parents and their adult children. Positive relationships with their adult children was important for both elder parents' wellbeing. Frequency of contact with children was important for fathers - both for their wellbeing and their physical health.
(14) Bell, L. G. and Bell, D. C. (2009). Effects of Family Connection and Family Individuation. Attachment and Human Development, 11, 471-490.
This prospective longitudinal study explores the differential effects of family connection and family individuation measured during adolescence on later midlife well-being. Home interviews were held in the 1970s with 99 families of 245 adolescents. Connection and individuation in the family system were measured by self-report, a projective exercise, and coding of taped family interactions. Twenty-five years later, telephone interviews were conducted with 54 men and 120 women (representing 82 families) who had been adolescents in the '70s interviews. Family connection (measured during adolescence) was associated with self-acceptance and positive relationships at midlife partially mediated by marriage. Family individuation (measured during adolescence) was associated with personal autonomy at midlife.
(13) Bell, L. G., Meyer, J., Rehal, D., Swope, C., Martin, D. R. and Lakhani, A. (2007). Connection and Individuation as Separate and Independent Processes: A Qualitative Analysis. Journal of Family Psychotherapy, 18(4), 43-59.
Theoretical models of connection and individuation processes are presented and explored. The connection process involves attachment and affection. Dependency is met with nurture, resulting in a warm, accepting family climate that encourage self esteem and ability to trust. The individuation process involves validation and respect. Expression of feelings and thoughts is met with acknowledgement, resulting in a family with clear interpersonal boundaries that encourage self differentiation and personal autonomy for family members, particularly the children. The goal of this work is explore the clinical value of conceptualizing connection and individuation as separate and independent processes. Four families representing combinations of high or low values on measures of connection and individuation are evaluated qualitatively by a multi-cultural team using a variety of theories and measures. Family patterns are described and possible clinical interventions are discussed.
(12) Bell, L. G. and Bell, D. C. (2005). Family dynamics in adolescence affect midlife well-being. Journal of Family Psychology, 19, 198-207.
This longitudinal study explores the effect of family system characteristics measured during adolescence on later midlife well-being. Structured home interviews were held in the 1970s with 99 adolescent/midlife families. Levels of connection and individuation in the family system were coded from taped family interactions. Twenty-five years later, telephone interviews were conducted with 54 men and 120 women who had been the adolescents in the '70s interviews. Quality of family experiences during adolescence predicted adult well-being 25 years later. There was a direct effect of family both on marriage and on well-being at midlife; for men, marriage also affected well-being. The results support the importance of family experience during adolescence for well-being in adulthood.
(11) Bell, L. G., Dendo, H., Nakata, Y., Bell, D. C., Munakata, T., and Nakamura, S. (2004). The experience of family in Japan and the United States: Working with the constraints inherent in cross-cultural research, Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 35, 351-373
Social scientists involved on cross-cultural research face a variety of challenges. This issue is discussed in the context of emic and etic approaches to research. A project illustrating some of these challenges is presented. A projective measure (the Family Paper Sculpture) completed by each family as a group was used to capture the experience of family in Japanese and American families. Some culture-based hypotheses were confirmed, and an interesting serendipitous finding was explored in depth by a cross-cultural team. The unexpected finding was that pictures made by Japanese families, compared to those made by American families, were more likely to contain multiple images of the family. Further evaluation showed that the Japanese multiple images were most likely to reflect a textured, non-unitary experience, depicting a variety of contexts.
The paper concludes by providing suggestions for enhancing the quality of cross-cultural research:
  • Build a cross-cultural team based on equality and mutual respect
  • Recognize the impossibility of doing exactly the same study in both cultures
  • Recognize the cultural constraints of human resources
  • Use indirect measures
  • Identify the process
  • Focus on similarities and differences
  • Remember gender and historical cohort
(10) Bell, L. G., Bell, D. C. and Nakata, Y. (2001). Triangulation and Adolescent Development in the U. S. and Japan, Family Process, 40, 173-186.
Using an indirect measure of family structure (patterns of agreement on the Moos Family Environment Scale), relationships between parents and adolescents were studied in the 99 U.S. families and 60 Japanese families. The basic hypothesis was that as the marital relationship becomes unstable, a child may be drawn in (triangled) to stabilize that relationship. Parents may avoid tension in the marital relationship by focusing together on an adolescent's problem, pull the adolescent into a coalition with one parent, or expect the adolescent to act as mediator or go-between. The determining factor in involving a child or adolescent may be the marital couple's inability to deal with hurt, their inability to cope with stress, or their weak problem-solving ability. One downside to triangulation is that it can be detrimental to the adolescent involved because it may interfere with her being perceived accurately by parents, thus interfering with the parents' ability to respond appropriately to the adolescent's own needs. In this study, a relationship was found between parents avoiding tension in their own relationship and their tendency to triangle an adolescent. Also, triangled daughters, in both cultures, had lower scores on ego development, supporting the hypothesis that such patterns can be detrimental to the adolescent's personal development.
(9) Bell, L. G and D. C. Bell. (2000). Japanese and U.S. marriage experiences: Traditional and non-traditional perceptions of family, Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 32, 309-319.
Structured home interviews with US and Japanese families included a projective exercise (the Family Paper Sculpture) in which families made pictures of the family. The marital relationship, as presented in that picture, was compared for the 2 samples. A number of themes were similar for families in both cultures: the tendency to see the parents/mates as a unit, and to see them as close to each other, the greater likelihood of including grandmothers in the family (compared with grandfathers), and the pattern of sons being more likely to be closest to fathers, daughters to mothers. Traditional themes were more common in the Japanese families. Marriage appeared to be based more on a personal relationship in the US, with mates seen as more similar to each other than in Japan. Fathers/husbands were more likely to be seen as isolated in Japan, with mothers/wives depicted as more connected with children.
(8) Bell, D. C., Bell, L. G., Nakata, Y. and Bell, E. M. (1996). Connection and individuality in Japan and the United States: Gender, culture, and conceptions of family health. Journal of Gender, Culture, and Health, 1, 277-294.
Men, women, boys and girls in the U.S. and Japan were asked to rank 10 characteristics as most to least important in defining a healthy family. According to the theory that images of a healthy family would reflect dominant cultural values, it was hypothesized that Americans and men would place more value on individuality in describing a healthy family; Japanese and women would place greater value on connection.
The three most important items were the same for all adults, men and women, in both cultures: warm, loving, caring atmosphere; trust and dependency; and each person being respected as an individual. For U.S. women and girls, and for all Japanese (adults and children), the most important item was a connection item. For U.S. men and boys, most valued was that each person be respected as an individual. Among adults, an interaction as found in the value placed on connection relative to individuality. American men placed the least value on connection; Japanese men placed the highest value on connection. Women from both cultures were in the middle. The difference between American men and women was not in how much they valued individuality: they gave it the same rank. But the U.S. women valued connection more (U. S. men valued it less) than individuality.
(7) Bell, L. G. (1992). Song without words, In R. Simon, C. Barrilleaux, M. S. Wylie, and L. M. Markowitz (Eds.), The Evolving Therapist, New York: Guilford, 81 - 86. (reprinted from The Family Therapy Networker, 1989).
A personal report of the experience of Japanese culture and Japanese family therapy compared with American culture. Topics included American talkativeness and how it may be seen by Japanese, attitudes toward child-rearing, family structure and the self concept. Differences in group process, caring for others compared with asserting oneself. Harmony, wholeness, and complementarity. "A group of Japanese people gathered together are like a clutch of different-colored foam rubber balls, compressed into a small space; the balls can adapt, accommodate their shape in order to make a fit. Americans are more like wooden cubes."
(6) Nakata, Y., H. Dendo, L. Bell, N. Nakamura, S. Nakamura, I. Sasama, K. Kawanami, D. Bell, & T. Munakata. (1991). Family functioning of adolescents' families: Study of assessment of family health. Japanese Journal of Family Therapy, 8, 40-53.
This study explored the relationships between family system variables measured by the Moos Family Environment Scale, family health as measures by the Global Coding Scheme, and the ego development of mothers, fathers, and adolescent children. Family cohesiveness, direct and open expression of feelings, and family's efficiency in problems solving were associated with both overall family health and with ego development.
(5) Bell, L. G., L. Ericksen, C. Cornwell, & D. C. Bell. (1991). Experienced closeness and distance among family members. Contemporary Family Therapy, 13, 231-245.
Studied emotional closeness among family members using the Family Paper Sculpture. Nine couples and 79 families participated in 2 studies. Results support the hypothesis that experiences of extreme closeness and extreme distance may be different manifestations of the same underlying process. Global coding of taped family interactions support the hypothesis that extremes of experienced closeness are associated with more conflict, less ability to resolve differences, and less warmth and support among family members. The experience of being very close, varying through time with the experience of being very distant, may be associated with disappointed attempts to achieve closeness with autonomy.
(4) Bell, D. C. & L. G. Bell. (1989). Micro and macro measurement of family systems concepts. Journal of Family Psychology, 3, 137-157.
Observation techniques may be classified as macro or micro measurement. When analysis focuses on concepts at the level of the individual (e.g., maturity, competence) or the family (e.g., flexibility of decision making), macro coding involves the coding of the concept by observing the family's behavior. The coder then makes an inference from the family's behavior about the value of the concept existing in the family. Micro coding codes the concrete behaviors observed in the family. The measurement of abstract concepts is thus more explicit with micro coding than with macro coding. The benefits and difficulties of using each kind of measure are discussed.
(3) Bell, L. G., C. Cornwell, & D. C. Bell. (1988) Peer relationships of adolescent daughters: A reflection of family relationship patterns, Family Relations, 37, 171-174.
A measure of family closeness was taken from the Global Coding Scheme. A measure of closeness in the peer relationships of an adolescent daughter was taken from a sociometric item. In the GCS families were coded on the degree to which they had an atmosphere that was "overly close, stuck, over-concerned with each other" as well as on the extent to which they had an atmosphere that was "isolated, disconnected, apathetic towards each other." The measure of family closeness was created by subtracting the family's score on Isolated from their score on Overly Close. The measure of peer closeness was the percent of the daughter's friendship choices which were reciprocated by other students in her school. A strong association between the family closeness measure and the peer closeness measure was interpreted to mean that relationship patterns learned in the family provide a model for adolescents' relationships outside of the family. The adolescent girls tended to replicate, with their peers, the patterns of closeness that were familiar from their family experience.
(2) Bell, L. G. & D. C. Bell. (1984). Family climate and the role of the female adolescent: Determinants of adolescent functioning. In D. H. Olson and B. C. Miller (eds.), Family Studies Yearbook, Vol. II (pp. 295-303), Beverly Hills: Sage. (Reprinted from Family Relations, 1982, 31, 519-517).
This study explored the relationship between family climate and the personal maturity of adolescent daughters. The maturity measure included ego development, selected scales from the California Psychological Inventory, and a sociometric measure of reciprocated friendships. Six family climate measures were taken from the Moos Family Environment Scale. Families of more mature daughters scored higher on scales of cohesion, expression of feelings, and independence, and lower on measures of organization and control. Lower-scoring girls were more likely to "triangled" into the parental relationship, either as a scapegoat or in a cross-generational coalition. There was some evidence to suggest that triangulation may involve only one child in a family, leaving the others "free" to develop according to their own needs.
(1) Bell, D. C. & L. G. Bell. (1983). Parental validation and support in the development of adolescent daughters. In H. D. Grotevant and C. R. Cooper (eds.), Adolescent Development in the Family: New Directions for Child Development (pp. 27-42), San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
This analysis focused on individuation in the adolescent's relationships with parents. The individuation process is associated with parental acknowledgment of the child. Individuation is contrasted with a support process associated with warmth and nurture. Using a structural equation model and measures from both the IPCS and the Global Coding Scheme, we found that the family system and parental acknowledgment of daughters mediated the effect of parental ego development on adolescent ego development