from Clinical/Therapeutic Issues
Summary of a Study on Developmental Factors,
Published in Comprehensive Psychiatry
Reviewed by Christopher H. Rosik, Ph.D.
A recent study by two Taiwanese psychiatrists, For-Wey Lung and Bih-Ching Shu (2007), examined the role of parental bonding on the adjustment problems of homosexuals. The authors studied three groups derived from men serving their mandatory military service in Taiwan: 51 young homosexual males diagnosed with an adjustment disorder, 100 non-homosexual male personnel with adjustment disorder and 124 male controls. The participants were administered Chinese versions of the Parental Bonding Instrument (PBI) and the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire as well as the Chinese Health Questionnaire. The BPI provides self-reports of parental behaviors toward the respondents during the first 16 years of their life. One-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) was used to compare differences between the groups. Logistic regression, path analysis and structural equation modeling (SEM) techniques were employed to identify the best fitting model that predicted variable relationships within the dyadic group comparisons.
Several findings were of note. The model relating the adjustment disordered homosexual males and controls explained a full 62% of the variance in differences between these two groups. The authors report that, "...individuals with non-caring parents or an overprotective mother tended to develop homosexuality [more] easily than those without non-caring parents or an over-protective mother" (p. 23). Furthermore, "...individuals with an over-protective father tended to develop homosexuality [more] easily that those without an over-protective father" (p. 23). According to the authors' description of the PBI, an over-protective parent can be characterized as over-controlling while a non-caring parent can be described as unaffectionate. Finally, the authors indicated that homosexual individuals tended to have a higher level of neurosis.
Not surprisingly, the model best integrating the associations between the homosexual males with an adjustment disorder and the non-homosexual adjustment disorder group explained only 27% of the variance in differences, much less than between homosexual males and the controls. Nonetheless, the findings still indicated that "...individuals with an over-protective father or non-caring parents had a greater tendency to develop homosexuality [more] easily than those who developed adjustment disorder" (p. 23). The authors go on to assert that, "...paternal protection and maternal care were determined to be the main vulnerability factors in the development of homosexual males" (p. 25).
Lung and Shu summarize their results as follows:
In conclusion, the construct of sexual partner orientation set in early childhood has been demonstrated in this study. Paternal attachment and introverted and neurotic characteristics present major influencing factors in the development of homosexuals. In particular, the father-son relationship has a unique role in the process of becoming a male homosexual (p. 25).
I was frankly quite surprised to find this study in such an esteemed journal as Comprehensive Psychiatry. The topic is highly charged in the current sociopolitical climate of western psychiatry and psychology. In addition, the study has several significant limitations that reduce the strength of its conclusions regarding developmental pathways to homosexuality. Foremost among these is that cross sectional data do not allow for conclusive statements about causality in the relationship between parenting experience and homosexuality. In this regard, the authors seem on occasion to overstate their case when using the language of "cause" and "effect," which is very different than the appropriate terminology of "prediction."
It was also not clear to me why the authors chose to define the psychiatric group by the criteria of an adjustment disorder, although I suspect it was a matter of convenience and higher base rates. It is not hard to imagine other disorders that might have made for even more intriguing comparison groups (e.g., depression, generalized anxiety disorder, or a personality disorder). The authors also did not specify how they identified their homosexual subjects (e.g., by homosexual behavior, feelings or self-identification), which would have helped to place the findings into a larger context. Using feelings would likely be a broad definition in identifying respondents' homosexuality, for example, meaning that the findings might be stronger were a more conservative measure (e.g., same-sex behavior) used. Finally, although the authors point out that the mandatory conscription policies of the Taiwanese military suggest their samples are representative of Taiwanese men, this conclusion is limited. Certainly there are concerns about cohort effects and an unspecified sampling procedure. At best, the findings can be generalized only to other Taiwanese men in the midst of their military service.
Despite these limitations, Lung and Shu have provided a valuable service in moving forward research into the potential developmental antecedents of homosexuality. Albeit imperfect, they do employ control and comparison groups that strengthen their findings and help identify factors that are implicated in homosexuality above and beyond those associated one type of psychiatric disorder. It was also encouraging to see contemporary and more powerful statistical methods, such as SEM, being utilized to study this topic in ways researchers from prior generations could only have dreamed about.
The findings of this study are stimulating and consistent with earlier research in implicating the father-son relationship as important in the development of male homosexuality (for example, see Seutter & Rovers, 2004, and Wadler, 1998). Far from being discredited as a possible etiological influence in the origin of male homosexuality, Lung and Shu's work point to the importance of paternal attachment and should embolden social scientists to take this line of inquiry with renewed seriousness. However, given the fact that the current sociopolitical climate within the social sciences in the West has had a chilling effect on these types of studies, we may benefit from networking and collaborating with researchers from cultures where such endeavors do not jeopardize their professional careers.
Lung, F.W., & Shu, B. C. (2007). Father-son attachment and sexual partner orientation in Taiwan. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 48, 20-26.
Seutter, R. A., & Rovers, M. (2004). Emotionally absent fathers: Furthering the understanding of homosexuality. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 32, 43-49.
Wadler, P. D. (1998). Momma's boys and their daddies: The effects of father-son closeness on adult male homosexual relationships. Dissertation Abstracts International Section A: Humanities and Social Sciences, 59(2-A), Aug., pp. 0425.