Family Studies Research Receives National Honor

OGDEN, Utah – Two family studies students from Weber State University have received national recognition for their undergraduate research examining how religion affects stepfamily interactions.

The paper “Religiosity Impacting Stepfamily Dynamics as Mediated by Dyadic Adjustment” has been awarded the 2010-11 Outstanding Undergraduate Research Project by the National Council on Family Relations (NCFR). The research was conducted and written by Michelle Burton and Andrew Chris.

“Surprisingly, there is no known research that has studied the impact of religiosity on stepfamily dynamics and the marital relationships of those in a stepfamily,” said WSU child and family associate professor Paul Schvaneveldt. “For our students to formulate and pursue this kind of research project is impressive. The experience is likely to be more valuable and beneficial than most courses the students could take because they get to apply theory and knowledge to real-world situations.”

For their research, Burton and Chris used an online survey that was distributed nationally with the help of the National Stepfamily Day Organization and the Blended and Stepfamily Resource Center.

Based on a sample size of 307 individuals, their study found that the type of religiosity expressed (whether intrinsic or extrinsic) influenced stepfamily dynamics such as communication or conflict.

“The study showed that higher levels of intrinsic religiosity (personal beliefs and behaviors about religious beliefs) has a positive impact on the married couple relationship of those in a stepfamily, and that in turn has a very important and positive impact on family communication, interaction, and the ways families solve problems,” Schvaneveldt said.

According to Schvaneveldt, that’s an important finding, because stepfamilies often struggle with higher levels of family conflict and less family cohesion, which makes it hard for couples to maintain high levels of marital satisfaction and commitment.

The research found that individuals reporting higher levels of extrinsic religiosity (involvement in religious activities for social gain) also experience positive influence on marital satisfaction and couple interaction, but extrinsic religiosity has a negative impact on family interactions, problem solving and communication.

The research concludes that intrinsic religiosity has a more positive impact on stepfamily couple and family dynamics, while higher levels of extrinsic religiosity has a mixed impact.

The paper, reporting their findings, was selected as best in the nation by an NCFR panel based on the following criteria:

• Uniqueness of the research question;
• The degree to which the findings contribute to the field;
• Clarity of writing;
• Good use of theory;
• Comprehensive literature review, building upon previous work;
• Sound research methodology; and
• Application for practitioners and/or likelihood of spurring future research.

Academic departments from more than 200 NCFR-affiliated colleges and universities in the United States and Canada were eligible to submit papers for the competition.

The award will be presented at the National Council of Family Relations annual conference in Orlando, Fla., in November.

Burton, who grew up in Ogden, is a senior who will graduate with her degree in child and family studies in December. Chris, originally from Caldwell, Idaho, earned his bachelor’s degree in family studies and psychology at WSU. He is pursuing a master’s degree from the University of Akron in marriage and family therapy.

Burton and Chris credit Schvaneveldt for their success, along with WSU’s Office of Undergraduate Research, which provided $3,500 in financial assistance to the project.

Burton plans to attend graduate school and become a certified family life educator as well as a marriage and family therapist. Chris hopes to someday open a private practice as a marriage and family therapist as well as teach in a university setting. Both plan to use their findings as the basis for future research in graduate school.

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Paul Schvaneveldt, associate professor child and family studies
801-626-6597 •

Michelle Burton, child and family studies student

Andrew Chris, child and families studies graduate

John Kowalewski, director of Media Relations
801-626-7212 •