Date of Award

Spring 2019

Document Type

Thesis Restricted

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Chairperson

Vanessa Johnson, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Susan Gans, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Lia O'Brien, Ph.D.


Family relationships are interrelated, each of which may impact other relationships within the family. Two hypotheses have been developed to study this interrelatedness, the spillover hypothesis and compensatory hypothesis. The spillover hypothesis proposes that negativity or positivity experienced in one subsystem can spillover into other family subsystems and the compensatory hypothesis proposes that if one experiences negativity in one subsystem that the individual then compensates for this negativity in a different family subsystem. I will test both of these hypotheses using questionnaires and interviews. The data from the interviews was derived from an original scoring system created for this thesis. This system uses 10 descriptors that look at positivity and negativity in each of three family subsystems (mother-father, mother-emerging adult, and father-emerging adult) (sample size 35 couples and 35 emerging adults). Results from the study provided support for the spillover hypothesis and not for the compensatory hypothesis.

Cortisol is the main hormone that is secreted by the adrenal glands and plays a role in how the human body responds to challenge (Rogers, 2012). Social buffering can reduce reactions to a potential threat and helps the individual return to baseline stress levels without changing the nature of the threat (Gunnar, 2017). The present study found social buffering among fathers, with the quality of the father-emerging adult relationship making a significant unique contribution to explaining variability in fathers’ cortisol response.