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Undergraduate Researchers

Kathy Vu

Kathy Vu, Psychology

“Chinese Immigrant and European American Mothers’ Parenting Beliefs and Styles: A Cultural Understanding of Parental Control”


Different approaches have been applied to the operationalization of parental control. Psychological control refers to parental behaviors that are intrusive and manipulate children’s psychological development, whereas behavioral control refers to parental behaviors that aim to achieve child compliance. Chinese parents are often described as more controlling than European Americans (EAs), and inconsistent associations between parental control and child outcomes are found in the Chinese context. The present study aimed to assess and compare Chinese-American (CA) and EA mothers’ conceptualizations of parental control strategies and specific situations in which they utilize control over their preschool-aged child. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 55 CA and 55 EA mothers regarding their controlling practices and the specific situations that warrant control. Results revealed that CA mothers engaged in higher levels of psychological control, whereas EA mothers practiced higher levels of behavioral control. CA mothers were more strict in areas involving children’s reluctance to follow parents’ requests, moral conduct, and not being careless or wasteful than EA mothers, who were in turn more strict in areas involving children’s safety, and interpersonal behaviors, such as respect, sharing, and manners. The significance and implications of understanding parental control in different cultural contexts through an emic approach was discussed.

How did you find your mentor for year research?

After discussing my interest in cross-cultural research, Dr. Cheah recruited me as a research assistant for her Culture, Child and Adolescent Development Lab.

How did you know this was the project you wanted to do?

While I was collecting data through conducting qualitative interviews with European American mothers for Dr. Cheah’s project, I began to develop my own research questions and decided to further examine parental control in both the Chinese immigrant context and European American context.

Is this your first independent research project?

Yes, this was my first independent research project!

Do you get course credit for this work?

Yes, I received credit for this work by registering for PSYC 490.

How much time do you put into it?

I put a lot of time and effort into writing the proposal, collecting data, coding the interviews, analyzing the results, and producing a report. Although it was demanding at times, it was also extremely rewarding to be able to understand all the details that go into a research project.

How did you hear about the Undergraduate Research Award (URA) program?

Dr. Cheah suggested to me that I apply for the Undergraduate Research Award in order to help fund my independent research project. It was through her support that I was able to successfully receive this award!

What academic background did you have before you applied for the URA?

Before applying for the URA, I had worked in the lab for several months and enrolled in psychology courses that helped inform my project.

Was the application difficult to do?

The application for the URA was fairly straightforward. In addition, I already had research questions I wanted to examine. The difficult part was being able to express myself coherently and figuring out the funding situation.

How much did your mentor help you with the application?

As mentioned before, Dr. Cheah was extremely helpful and responsive to my needs. She helped guide me through how to coherently express my thought process and suggested areas I needed to elaborate on.

What has been the hardest part about your research?

The most difficult part about my research was voicing why it is important to do research on understanding parenting in immigrant families. Understanding parenting will allow us to promote the positive development of children of immigrant families!

What was the most unexpected thing?

Staying on top with current literature was extremely important and caught me off guard!

What is your advice to other students about getting involved in research?

Research may seem daunting but it is extremely rewarding to see your research come to fruition. Although there are times where I found it extremely difficult, I had fun seeing my project move from start to finish! Students should not be afraid to participate in research! There are many great mentors out there who are willing to guide students through this process.

What are your career goals?

My career goal is to eventually conduct cross-cultural research examining the socialization and expression of emotions in families and to teach psychology in an academic setting.

5/19/2014