A cross-cultural study of family functioning

Butler Hospital; Brown University; Medical University; Park-wood Hospital; Rhode Island Hospital
Contemporary Family Therapy 09/1990; 12(5):439-454. DOI: 10.1007/BF00891712

ABSTRACT The Family Assessment Device (FAD) was used to compare patterns of family functioning in two cultural settings, North America and Hungary. The sample size consisted of 95 nonclinical North American families and 58 nonclinical Hungarian families. No cross-cultural differences were found in the families'' general functioning nor in their affective involvement or affective responsiveness as measured by the FAD. Hungarian families, however, perceived their functioning as significantly better than the North American families in problem-solving and in communication. North American families rated themselves significantly better than the Hungarians in setting family rules and boundaries and in meeting their family responsibilities. Results from this study suggest that cultural values can affect a family''s functioning and that differences in areas of family functioning can be captured using the FAD. A discussion of broad societal values of the two cultures was used to interpret the contrasting patterns of family functioning.Cross-cultural studies serve many purposes. In general they provide knowledge about the different cultures under investigation. As such, they broaden and enrich our perspectives of ourselves and the world around us. More specifically they highlight similarities and differences across cultures, information that can be helpful in further refining our understanding of the impact of diverse and varying socio-political forces.A topic of particular interest to family therapists and researchers is family functioning in different cultural settings. In spite of continuing research in this area, few studies examine cross-cultural patterns of family interactions and even fewer do so with instruments specifically designed to assess family functioning.From a family perspective, particularly looking at pathology in family functioning, cross-cultural comparisons can be used to highlight areas of dysfunction common to families irrespective of the cultural context. From a cross-cultural perspective, family comparisons can be used to point out the cultural effects and emphases given to different dimensions of functioning within a common system (i.e., the family unit).Both conceptual and methodological problems have contributed to shortcomings in previous cross-cultural studies (Fabrega, 1974; Kleinman, 1987; Flaherty et al., 1988; Rogler, 1989). A basic criticism of such studies has been the assumption that meanings and values in one culture are equivalent to those in another.Another issue, which is particularly pertinent to our study, is the use of an instrument which is developed in one culture and administered in another cultural setting. A potential problem this raises is inferring cultural differences between groups when the translated and the original instruments are not actually comparable in meaning. In fact, one objective of the study was to see whether our own self-report measure of family functioning, the Family Assessment Device (FAD, Epstein et al., 1978, 1983), could be successfully used in another cultural setting.The following report is part of a larger research project, conducted in 1986–87, that compared depressed and nonclinical families across two cultures. The findings presented here are comparisons between nonclinical Hungarian and nonclinical North American families. In our earlier study differences in family interactions between clinically depressed and nonclinical families were evident in both cultural settings (Keitner et al., in press). It was not clear, however, if significant cross-cultural differences in family functioning would be found for the normal group of families and, if so, how these would differ from their ill counterparts. Inclusion of the normal families thus served two purposes, as controls in the larger study to test within cultural differences and as comparison groups in a separate analysis to test between cultural differences.A specific objective of this study was to contrast patterns of perceived family functioning in nonclinical Hungarian families and North American families. Another objective was to determine if the Family Assessment Device (FAD), a self-report measure of family functioning, could be successfully used in different cultural contexts. Hungary was chosen as an appropriate country of study for several reasons. It is at the crossroads of East and West, sharing enough similarities with western culture to validate comparisons, yet different enough in both its cultural and sociopolitical system that some differences could be expected to emerge. Because it is likely that the Hungarian social system is less familiar to readers than that of North American, the results are discussed with particular reference to Hungary.

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