The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Mexican American Adolescent Couples' Discrepancies in Acculturation and Machismo: Associations With Observed Negativity While Discussing Relationship Problems

Saturday, January 18, 2014: 3:30 PM
HBG Convention Center, Room 102B Street Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Heidi L. Adams, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Texas at San Antonio, San Antonio, TX
Lela Rankin Williams, PhD, Assistant Professor, Arizona State University, Tucson, AZ
Background and Purpose: The formation of dating relationships is a developmental milestone for adolescents and provides them a forum through which to practice adaptive and non-violent communication skills as differences within the couple inevitably surface (Tabares & Gottman, 2003). Mexican American (MA) couples face unique challenges, however, as they acculturate to U.S. dating norms; namely, females decrease in traditional gender role beliefs (i.e., machismo) while males maintain stability (Updegraff et al., 2012). This divergent shift has been associated with heightened risk for conflict and intimate partner violence among Latino adults (e.g., Miranda et al., 2006); however, less understood is this relationship among MA adolescent couples, who experience more frequent and severe teen dating violence (TDV) than other ethnicities (CDC, 2011) and may be more accepting of it (Black & Weisz, 2008). Negativity, manifested both verbally (e.g., anger, shouting) and non-verbally (e.g., negative affect, withdrawal; Cornelius et al., 2010), is associated with teen dating violence (TDV). Our research questions were: Are couples’ acculturation discrepancies associated with observed negativity while discussing a salient relationship problem, and if so, is this relationship mediated by discrepancies in traditional gender role beliefs?

Methods: Thirty MA dating couples (ages 15-17) from an urban area of a Southwest border state took part in a video-taped interaction task in which each partner choose a most recent or important relationship problem and was given seven minutes to discuss it (14 minutes total). Interactions were coded using the System for Coding Interactions in Dyads (r >.8). The Negativity and Conflict Subscale (NC) included aggregated verbal (e.g., tone of voice, speaking through teeth) and non-verbal (e.g., glaring or cold facial expression, rigid posture) tension, frustration, and anger (Malik & Lindahl, 2000). Discrepancy scores were calculated by subtracting males’ scores from females’ on self-reported acculturation and machismo (Cuellar et al., 1995). Acculturation was measured via two subscales (Anglo-/AOS and Mexican-orientation/MOS).

Results: Adolescent males were more endorsing of machismo statements than were females, t(27) = 3.02, p = .01. Couples’ discrepancy in AOS was positively associated with machismo discrepancy, β = .41, p = .03, and observed NC, β = .39, p = .03, although this relationship was not mediated by machismo discrepancy according to Baron and Kenny’s (1986) Causal Steps approach to determine mediation, F(2,25) = 2.01, p = .16. A positive correlation of machismo discrepancy and NC did, however, yield a small effect size, r = .19, p = .34. Discrepancy in MOS and overall acculturation did not yield significant associations with NC.

Conclusions and Implications: One strength of this study is the use of both observational and self-report methods to assess negotiation of conflict at the dyadic level in an understudied minority youth population. This preliminary research suggests that MA dating couples may experience increased difficulty in negotiating relationship problems as they acculturate to U.S. dating norms dissimilarly. Reaching youth with programs attuned to this reality is particularly important given their earlier transitions to marriage and parenting roles, and the documented association between heightened negativity during conflict and interpersonal violence.