Young South African adults’ perceptions of parental psychological control and antisocial behavior
Nicolette Vanessa Roman, PhD, Anja Human, and Donavon Hiss (University of the Western Cape), 2012, 40(7), 1163–1174

As I edited this research article, I heard the increasingly loud ringing of a bell. Here was a study with which I could identify. For ten years I worked in a male prison in an education role. Over that time I got to know a number of men who seemed to suffer from a syndrome I called “smothering”. Even at ages up to 50, their mothers still endeavored to control them. Through phone calls to me, the mothers would try to defend them, make decisions for them, persuade me to do more for them, and constantly worry about them. Never once over those years did I have a call from a father. In the brief time I spent in a women’s prison I never had a call from any parents.

I have often wondered about this phenomenon and the findings of the research I was dealing with here seemed to confirm my thoughts:
“…mothers were perceived to be more controlling than were fathers”.

“The results show a significant positive correlation between maternal psychological control and antisocial behavior…Maternal psychological control proved to be a stronger predictor of antisocial behavior than did paternal psychological control.”

Were these men criminals because their mothers failed to let them go? I often asked myself that question. The discussion in the research seems to support this.

“The tendency to behave antisocially could be an outlet for restricted freedom of choice and individuality imposed by psychologically controlling parents. …Psychological control places limitations on the individual’s ability to gain autonomy and to develop decision-making skills.”

This research was limited to university students, who self-reported their antisocial behavior. I would be fascinated by a similar study within the criminal population, and with a focus on participants’ gender as well as parental gender. It might elicit even more interesting results.


Lesley Aitken | Copyeditor
Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal