Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
My Child Is God’s Gift to Humanity: Development and
Validation of the Parental Overvaluation Scale (POS)
Eddie Brummelman, Sander Thomaes, Stefanie A. Nelemans, Bram Orobio de Castro, and
Brad J. Bushman
Online First Publication, November 3, 2014. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/pspp0000012
Brummelman, E., Thomaes, S., Nelemans, S. A., Orobio de Castro, B., & Bushman, B. J.
(2014, November 3). My Child Is God’s Gift to Humanity: Development and Validation of the
Parental Overvaluation Scale (POS). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Advance
online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/pspp0000012
My Child Is God’s Gift to Humanity: Development and Validation of the
Parental Overvaluation Scale (POS)
Utrecht University Sander Thomaes
University of Southampton and Utrecht University
Stefanie A. Nelemans and Bram Orobio de Castro
Utrecht University Brad J. Bushman
The Ohio State University and VU University Amsterdam
Although it is natural for parents to value their children, some parents “overvalue” them, believing that
their own children are more special and more entitled than other children are. This research introduces
this concept of parental overvaluation. We developed a concise self-report scale to measure individual
differences in parental overvaluation, the Parental Overvaluation Scale (POS; Study 1). The POS has
high test–retest stability over 6, 12, and 18 months (Study 2). As demonstrated in a representative sample
of Dutch parents (Study 3) and a diverse sample of American parents (Study 4), the POS has an internally
consistent single-factor structure; strong measurement invariance across sexes; as well as good conver-
gent, discriminant, and criterion validity. Overvaluation is especially high in narcissistic parents (Studies
3, 4, 6). When parents overvalue their child, they overclaim their child’s knowledge (Study 4), perceive
their child as more gifted than actual IQ scores justify (Study 5), want their child to stand out from others,
and frequently praise their child in real-life settings (Study 6). By contrast, overvaluation is not
consistently related to parents’ basic parenting dimensions (i.e., warmth and control) or Big Five
personality traits (Studies 3, 4, 6). Importantly, overvalued children are not more intelligent or better
performing than other children (Studies 5–6). These findings support the validity of the POS and show
that parental overvaluation has important and unique implications for parents’ beliefs and practices.
Research on overvaluation might shed light on the determinants of parenting practices and the social-
ization of children’s self-views, including narcissism.
Keywords: parental overvaluation, parenting, narcissism, praise, positive illusions
A Chinese proverb holds that “there is only one pretty child in
the world, and every mother has it.” Parents tend to look at their
child through rose-colored glasses. However, there are marked
individual differences in this tendency. Since the early days of
psychology, theorists have noted that some parents hold unrealis-
tically positive, inflated views of their child. For example, Freud
(1914/1957) observed that some parents “are under a compulsion
to ascribe every perfection to the child—which sober observation
would find no occasion to do” (p. 91). Other psychologists have
similarly observed that some parents are inclined to perceive their
child as an “embryonic genius” (Horney, 1939, p. 91) or “God’s
gift to man” (Millon, 1969, p. 263). These observations are not just
relics of an ancient past. Contemporary child-rearing experts have
likewise observed that some present-day parents also perceive
their child as exceptional, extraordinary, or perfect (e.g., Twenge,
2006; Young-Eisendrath, 2008).
Yet, this tendency to “overvalue” children has rarely been
empirically studied as an individual-difference variable. This is
unfortunate, for two reasons. First, such research sheds light on the
determinants of parenting practices. When parents believe their
children are more special and more entitled than other children,
they might treat their children accordingly (Millon, 1969, 2011).
As such, overvaluation might have unique implications for parent-
ing practices. Second, overvaluation might cultivate the develop-
ment of narcissistic traits in children (Otway & Vignoles, 2006;
Thomaes & Brummelman, in press). Narcissistic children feel
superior to others yet need constant external validation. When they
are rejected or humiliated, for example, narcissistic children are
Eddie Brummelman, Department of Psychology, Utrecht University;
Sander Thomaes, Center for Research on Self and Identity, School of
Psychology, University of Southampton, and Department of Psychology,
Utrecht University; Stefanie A. Nelemans, Research Centre Adolescent
Development, Utrecht University; Bram Orobio de Castro, Department of
Psychology, Utrecht University; Brad J. Bushman, School of Communi-
cation and Department of Psychology, The Ohio State University, and
Department of Communication Science, VU University Amsterdam.
This research was supported by a Fulbright Scholarship to Eddie Brum-
melman and by The Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research
Grant 431-09-022. Study 3 used data of the Longitudinal Internet Studies
for the Social Sciences panel administered by CentERdata. We thank
Gymnasium Celeanum for participating in our research. We thank Con-
stantine Sedikides and Geertjan Overbeek for their valuable comments on
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Eddie
Brummelman, who is now at the Research Institute of Child Development
and Education, University of Amsterdam, P.O. Box 15780, 1001 NG
Amsterdam, the Netherlands. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Journal of Personality and Social Psychology © 2014 American Psychological Association
2014, Vol. 108, No. 1, 000 0022-3514/14/$12.00 http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/pspp0000012
prone to lash out aggressively against others. Narcissism thus
represents an important risk factor for youth aggression and vio-
lence (Bukowski, Schwartzman, Santo, Bagwell, & Adams, 2009;
Thomaes, Bushman, Stegge, & Olthof, 2008).
The aim of this research was to develop and validate a measure
of parental overvaluation, the Parental Overvaluation Scale (POS),
and to explore how overvaluation is related to parenting beliefs
and practices. In doing so, we contribute insight into the nature,
measurement, and correlates of parental overvaluation and we
provide researchers with a tool to study this intriguing and largely
overlooked dimension of parents’ minds.
We define parental overvaluation as parents’ belief that their
own child is more special and more entitled than other children.
The concept of parental overvaluation was first introduced to
psychology by Freud (1914/1957). During the decades that fol-
lowed, other theorists elaborated on the concept (e.g., Millon,
1969, 2011). Although empirical research on parental overvalu-
ation is scarce, there is an abundance of research showing that, in
general, people have a tendency to hold positive illusions about
their significant others. For example, people often hold positive
illusions about their romantic partner’s personality (Murray &
Holmes, 1997; Murray, Holmes, & Griffin, 1996), behavior (Hall
& Taylor, 1976), and physical appearance (Barelds-Dijkstra &
Preliminary evidence points toward individual differences in
parental overvaluation. In two correlational studies (Cohen &
Fowers, 2004; Wenger & Fowers, 2008), parents rated the degree
to which trait adjectives (e.g., “sincere,” “dishonest”) described
their child and “the average child of the same age.” A majority of
parents rated their own child as having more favorable and fewer
unfavorable traits than the average child. This better-than-average
effect suggests that parents often overestimate their child’s quali-
ties (Alicke, Klotz, Breitenbecher, Yurak, & Vredenburg, 1995).
Importantly, this better-than-average effect was more pronounced
for some parents than it was for others, and it was even nonexistent
in a minority of them. Another correlational study revealed that
some adults, more so than others, believed that their parents
overvalued them in their childhood (e.g., “When I was a child, my
parents believed I had exceptional talents and abilities”; Otway &
Vignoles, 2006). The fact that some parents hold overly positive
views of their child, whereas others hold more realistic views of
their child, suggests important individual differences in overvalu-
Parental Narcissism and Overvaluation
Of course, not all parents are equally inclined to overvalue their
children. We suggest that overvaluation is especially pronounced
in parents high in narcissistic traits. Much like Narcissus admired
his own image in the water, narcissistic parents may admire their
children—their own image of flesh and blood. Early philosophical
and psychological writings are consistent with this idea. Kames
(1762/1788) noted that “self-love, the most vigorous of all pas-
sions, is readily expanded upon children” (p. 71). Similarly, Freud
(1914/1957) argued that parents’ overvaluation of their children
represents “a revival and reproduction of their own narcissism” (p.
91). Clinical observations likewise suggest that narcissistic parents
are inclined to use their children as an extension of the self and to
ascribe them the wonderful qualities they ascribe themselves (N.
W. Brown, 1998; Miller, 1981). Despite its theoretical importance,
however, the link between parental narcissism and overvaluation
has never been tested empirically.
What might drive narcissistic parents to overvalue their chil-
dren? Narcissists have a strong desire to be seen as unique,
important, and entitled, and they use inventive means to create and
maintain their grandiose self-views (Morf & Rhodewalt, 2001).
Given that children are an important part of parents’ selves (Aron
& Aron, 1986; Brummelman et al., 2013), overvaluing their child
may be an indirect means for narcissistic parents to enhance
themselves. Narcissistic parents might believe that their child’s
traits, behaviors, and accomplishments positively reflect upon
themselves, so they may bask in their child’s reflected glory
(Cialdini et al., 1976). By overvaluing their child, narcissistic
parents may indirectly convey to themselves and to others that they
are unique and entitled themselves. By analogy, when parents
consider their children to be princes and princesses, they imply that
they themselves are kings and queens.
Parental Overvaluation and Parenting Practices
Parents’ beliefs guide their actual parenting practices (Darling &
Steinberg, 1993). How, then, does parental overvaluation translate
into parenting practices? When parents overvalue their child, they
might want to express their inflated views of their child on fre-
quent occasion. As such, overvaluation might lead parents to
lavish their child with praise (Millon, 1969, 2011). Praise refers to
positive evaluations of the child’s traits, behaviors, or accomplish-
ments (Kanouse, Gumpert, & Canavan-Gumpert, 1981). Parents
often believe that children enjoy being praised and that praise is
invariably beneficial to children’s development (Henderlong &
Lepper, 2002). They often assume, for example, that praise boosts
children’s self-esteem and motivation (Brummelman, Thomaes,
Orobio de Castro, Overbeck, & Bushman, 2014; Brummelman,
Thomaes, Overbeek, et al., 2014; Mueller & Dweck, 1998). Thus,
praise might be a well-accepted and seemingly benign way for
overvaluing parents to express their inflated views of their child.
Overview of Present Research
The first purpose of our research was to develop and validate a
concise yet comprehensive self-report measure of parental over-
valuation: the Parental Overvaluation Scale (POS; Study 1). We
evaluated its test–retest stability in a four-wave longitudinal study
(Study 2). Then, we tested its factor structure and its measurement
invariance across sexes in a representative sample of Dutch parents
(Study 3) and a diverse sample of American parents (Study 4).
Measurement invariance indicates that an instrument assesses the
same construct in different groups (Vandenberg & Lance, 2000),
and thus represents an important aspect of an instrument’s validity.
Subsequently, we tested the hypothesis that overvaluation is espe-
cially pronounced in parents high in narcissistic traits, who may
expand their self-love upon their children (Studies 3, 4, 6). In
addition, we tested the hypothesis that overvaluation is associated
with parents’ tendency to perceive their child as superior to other
children, to overclaim their child’s knowledge (Study 4), to per-
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2BRUMMELMAN ET AL.
ceive their child as more gifted than actual IQ scores justify (Study
5), to desire their child to stand out from others, and to frequently
praise their child in real-life settings (Study 6). Crucially, we used
IQ tests to examine whether overvalued children are objectively
more intelligent or better performing than other children (Studies
5–6). Together, these studies provide a stringent examination of
the nature, measurement, and correlates of parental overvaluation.
We studied parents of children in late childhood, for two rea-
sons. First, it is a time when pronounced individual differences
exist in the extent to which parents hold inflated views of their
children. When children are younger, holding overly positive
views of them seems more normative for parents, because these
views have not yet been tested against reality (Wenger & Fowers,
2008). For example, young children have not yet started formal
schooling, where overvaluing parents’ beliefs about their child
(e.g., “My child is exceptionally gifted in math”) are often chal-
lenged by reality (e.g., the child’s nonexceptional grade-point
average for math). Second, in late childhood, children have ac-
quired the cognitive capacities to evaluate themselves from the
perspective of others and to internalize others’ views of them
(Harter, 2012; Selman, 1980). Thus, from this age, parents’ beliefs
about them become especially consequential for children’s self-
views and behaviors (Collins, Madsen, & Susman-Stillman, 2002;
The purpose of Study 1 was to construct the final version of the
POS from a large pool of possible items and to explore its factor
Participants. Participants were 227 parents (69% mothers,
ages 30–55; M⫽42.0, SD ⫽4.6) of a child (52% girls) between
8 and 12 years old (M⫽10.2, SD ⫽1.2). They were recruited
from 10 public elementary schools in the Netherlands. One parent
participated per household.
Procedure. The initial item pool consisted of 85 items. All
items were dyadic, reflecting parents’ overvaluation of a single
We constructed these items on the basis of clinical descrip-
tions of parental overvaluation (e.g., Freud, 1914/1957; Kernberg,
1975; Millon, 1969), theories of positive illusions in social per-
ception (e.g., Krebs & Denton, 1997; Murray et al., 1996), and an
existing, retrospective child-report measure of parental overvalu-
ation (Otway & Vignoles, 2006). We avoided items that were
domain specific (e.g., “My child has a natural talent for mathe-
matics”) and items that could have a basis in reality (e.g., “My
child outperforms his/her classmates in mathematics”). Instead, we
generated items that reflected parents’ belief that their child is
more special (e.g., “My child is more special than other children”)
and more entitled (e.g., “My child deserves special treatment”)
than other children. Next, four child development experts indicated
which items they considered clearly worded and central to the
construct of parental overvaluation. Items mentioned by two or
more experts were selected. This resulted in the final item pool,
consisting of 53 items. Responses were scored using 4-point scales
(0 ⫽Not at all true,1⫽Not really true,2⫽Sort of true,3⫽
Results and Discussion
We use two-tailed tests (␣⫽.05) throughout the present article.
In order to create a concise and unidimensional scale with nonre-
dundant items, we first selected items with high corrected item-
total correlations (r⬎.50) and small to moderate interitem cor-
relations (.15 ⬍r⬍.50; Clark & Watson, 1995). If the correlation
between two items was either too weak or too strong, we retained
the most clearly worded one. Then, we selected items on theoret-
ical grounds. The four child development experts indicated which
remaining items they considered most central to parental overvalu-
ation. Items mentioned by three or more experts were selected.
This resulted in the final set of seven items constituting the POS
(see Appendix A). Responses were averaged across items (Cron-
bach’s ␣⫽.80; M⫽0.94, SD ⫽0.54). Examination of retained
and deleted items indicated that no aspect of overvaluation was
lost in the selection process. In fact, the POS correlated strongly
with the averaged score on the deleted items, r(225) ⫽.85, p⬍
To examine the factor structure of the POS, we conducted an
exploratory factor analysis (maximum likelihood extraction, direct
oblimin rotation; Costello & Osborne, 2005). On the basis of
inspection of the scree plot and a criterion eigenvalue of 1, results
revealed a single-factor solution (eigenvalue ⫽3.21, explained
In this study, as well as in Studies 3 and 4, we conducted
confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) using Mplus version 7.11
(L. K. Muthén & Muthén, 2012). Because items were measured on
4-point scales, we treated them as categorical variables and used
robust weighted least squares estimation (L. K. Muthén & Muthén,
2012). We allowed error variances between items to covary if the
modification indices implied that adding this covariance would
significantly increase model fit. All modifications were made
Model fit was assessed with the Tucker-Lewis index (TLI),
comparative fit index (CFI), and the root-mean-aquare error of
approximation (RMSEA) with a 90% confidence interval (CI). TLI
and CFI values ⱖ.90 and RMSEA values ⱕ.08 indicate accept-
able model fit, whereas TLI and CFI values ⱖ.95 and RMSEA
values ⱕ.06 indicate good model fit (these cutoffs are based on
Hu & Bentler, 1999; Kline, 2005; B. O. Muthén, 2004).
A CFA confirmed that the unconditional one-factor model
showed acceptable-to-good model fit,
(11) ⫽23.36, CFI ⫽.987,
TLI ⫽.976, RMSEA ⫽.070, 90% CI [.029, .110]. Standardized
factor loadings of this one-factor model ranged from .60 to .75 (see
Together, these results demonstrate that the POS has an inter-
nally consistent single-factor structure.
Parents often favor one child over their other children (Suitor, Sechrist,
Plikuhn, Pardo, & Pillemer, 2008). To prevent this from affecting our
findings, we ensured that parents reported about a single child who they did
not “select” themselves. In Studies 1, 2, 5 and 6, parents were recruited
through their child, and they reported about this child. In Studies 3 and 4,
parents were recruited directly on the condition that they had a child
between 8 and 12 years old. If they had multiple children this age, one was
randomly selected (i.e., parents reported about the one who most recently
had his or her birthday).
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The purpose of Study 2 was to investigate the test–retest stabil-
ity of the POS over short-term (6 months), medium-term (12
month), and long-term (18 months) time intervals.
Participants. Participants were 415 mothers (ages 28–60
years, M⫽42.2, SD ⫽4.0) and 289 fathers (ages 29–64 years,
M⫽44.6, SD ⫽4.6) of a child (53% girls) between 7 and 12 years
old (M⫽9.5, SD ⫽0.9). They were recruited via 17 elementary
schools in the Netherlands. Data were collected as part of a larger
Procedure. Participants completed the POS four times, with
6-month intervals between each completion. Parents who had
multiple children between 7 and 12 years old completed the POS
for each of these children individually, yielding a total of 476 and
334 unique reports from mothers and fathers, respectively.
Results and Discussion
Because some mothers and fathers reported about the same
child, data for mothers and fathers were analyzed separately. As
can be seen in Table 2, the test–retest stability was high (rs⫽
.56–.80, ps⬍.001) across 6, 12, and 18 months, for both fathers
and mothers. Thus, the POS assesses relatively stable and enduring
individual differences in parental overvaluation.
Study 3 had three purposes. First, we wanted to replicate the
factor structure of the POS in a representative sample of Dutch
parents. Second, we wanted to test the measurement invariance of
the POS across child and parent sex. We expected the single-factor
structure to hold similarly for boys and girls, and for fathers and
mothers. Third, we wanted to assess the link between overvalu-
ation and parents’ inflated, narcissistic self-views. We expected
parental overvaluation to be higher among more narcissistic par-
Participants. Participants were 388 parents (56% mothers,
ages 27–69 years, M⫽42.3, SD ⫽5.5) of a child (51% girls)
between 8 and 12 years old (M⫽10.2, SD ⫽1.4). On the basis of
having a child this age, parents were randomly selected from 5,000
Dutch households participating in the Longitudinal Internet Stud-
ies for the Social Sciences panel, which is based on a probability
sample of households in the Netherlands.
Procedure. Participants completed the POS (Cronbach’s ␣⫽
.81, M⫽1.27, SD ⫽0.55). Narcissism was assessed using the
16-item Narcissistic Personality Inventory-16 (Ames, Rose, &
Anderson, 2006): For each item, participants chose which of two
statements best described themselves (e.g., “I think I am a special
person” vs. “I am no better or nor worse than most people”; “I am
apt to show off if I get the chance” vs. “I try not to be a show off”).
The total score was the proportion (range ⫽0–1) of narcissistic
responses (Cronbach’s ␣⫽.76; M⫽0.20, SD ⫽0.18).
Preliminary analyses. Skewness (0.23, SE ⫽0.12) and kur-
tosis (0.69, SE ⫽0.25) estimates indicate adequate normality for
Narcissism. As predicted, parental overvaluation was posi-
tively correlated with parental narcissism, r(386) ⫽.22, p⬍.001.
CFAs. A CFA showed that the unconditional one-factor
model showed good model fit,
(8) ⫽16.55, CFI ⫽.996,
TLI ⫽.990, RMSEA ⫽.052, 95% CI [.013, .088]. Standardized
factor loadings of this one-factor model ranged from .53 to .87
(see Table 1).
Measurement invariance analyses. In this study and in
Study 4, which uses a diverse sample of American parents, we
examined the measurement invariance between boys and girls and
between fathers and mothers. We tested configural, metric, and
scalar invariance in a stepwise manner.
1. Configural invariance means that the same subset of items
loads on the same construct (i.e., latent factor) in different groups.
For this, we examined whether an unconstrained model (baseline
, in which factor loadings and thresholds were freely
Descriptive Statistics and Test–Retest Stability of POS Across
Four Six-Monthly Waves in Study 2
Variable MSDCronbach’s ␣
T1 T2 T3 T4
T1 1.30 0.50 .75 —
T2 1.29 0.53 .81 0.64 —
T3 1.26 0.56 .84 0.61 0.80 —
T4 1.18 0.51 .84 0.56 0.78 0.79 —
T1 1.16 0.53 .80 —
T2 1.12 0.50 .81 0.72 —
T3 1.12 0.51 .82 0.72 0.79 —
T4 1.12 0.50 .81 0.67 0.72 0.78 —
Note. All zero-order correlations are significant at p⬍.001. Cronbach’s
␣was calculated in SPSS. All other estimates were calculated using Mplus
v.7.11 using full information maximum likelihood. Each wave (T1–T4)
was separated by 6 months. POS ⫽Parental Overvaluation Scale; T1–
T4 ⫽Time 1–Time 4.
Standardized Factor Loadings in Confirmatory Factor Analyses
of POS Items in Studies 1, 3, and 4
POS item Study 1
(N⫽227) Study 3
(N⫽388) Study 4
Item 1 0.62 0.59 0.37
Item 2 0.65 0.78 0.65
Item 3 0.63 0.61 0.41
Item 4 0.67 0.53 0.44
Item 5 0.75 0.73 0.83
Item 6 0.60 0.87 0.73
Item 7 0.73 0.58 0.44
Note. POS ⫽Parental Overvaluation Scale.
4BRUMMELMAN ET AL.
estimated between groups) fits well in both groups separately. A
well-fitting model for both groups would indicate configural in-
2. Metric invariance means that the strength of the associations
between items and the latent factor (i.e., the factor loadings) are
similar for different groups. For this, we compared the baseline
) with a model in which the factor loadings of the items
on the latent factor were constrained to be equal across the two
). No significant difference in model fit between M
would indicate metric invariance.
3. Scalar invariance means that not only the strength of the
associations between items and their underlying construct (i.e., the
factor loadings) but also the item thresholds (i.e., item intercepts
for categorical variables) are similar for different groups. For this,
we compared the metric model (M
) with a model in which the
thresholds of the items were also constrained to be equal between
the two groups (M
). No significant difference in model fit be-
would indicate scalar invariance.
No significant difference in model fit between M
would indicate strong measurement invari-
ance (i.e., that the POS assesses the same construct in boys and
girls and in fathers and mothers).
We first estimated the CFA model in boys and girls separately.
The one-factor model showed good model fit for boys and
acceptable-to-good model fit for girls (see Table 3). We then tested
for configural, metric, and scalar invariance between boys and
girls. All models showed acceptable-to-good fit to the data (see
Table 4). Importantly, chi-square difference tests (L. K. Muthén &
Muthén, 2012) revealed no significant differences in model fit
between the configural and metric model (p⫽.20), and between
the metric and scalar model (p⫽.09). Thus, the one-factor model
showed strong measurement invariance between boys and girls.
We also estimated the CFA model in fathers and mothers
separately. The one-factor model showed good model fit for fa-
thers and acceptable-to-good model fit for mothers (see Table 3).
We then tested for configural, metric, and scalar invariance be-
tween fathers and mothers. All models showed acceptable-to-good
fit to the data (see Table 4). Importantly, chi-square difference
tests (L. K. Muthén & Muthén, 2012) revealed no significant
differences in model fit between the configural and metric model
(p⫽.22), and between the metric and scalar model (p⫽.11).
Thus, the one-factor model showed strong measurement invariance
between fathers and mothers.
Together, these findings confirm, in a representative sample of
Dutch parents, the single-factor structure of the POS. Also, they
demonstrate strong measurement invariance of this factor between
boys and girls, and between fathers and mothers. In addition, the
findings show that overvaluation is especially high in narcissistic
In Study 4, we sought to corroborate the factor structure and
measurement invariance of the POS in a diverse sample of Amer-
ican parents. In addition, we attempted to replicate in Study 4 the
finding that overvaluation is related to parents’ level of narcissism
and examined whether this relationship is unique to narcissism or
holds for other positive self-views as well (i.e., self-esteem).
Importantly, we also explored in Study 4 the discriminant and
convergent validity of the POS. We had no a priori expectations
about the association between parental overvaluation and parents’
basic parenting dimensions (i.e., warmth and control) and Big Five
personality traits. However, we expected overvaluation to be as-
sociated with parents’ tendency to perceive their child as superior
to others and to overestimate their child’s capacities.
We developed an objective method to assess parents’ overesti-
mation of their child’s capacities. Building on the Overclaiming
Confirmatory Factor Analyses of POS per Child and Parent Sex
in Studies 3 and 4
(df)CFI TLI RMSEA [90% CI]
Boys (n⫽192) 17.27 (11) .994 .989 .054 [.000, .101]
Girls (n⫽196) 28.29 (12) .986 .976 .083 [.043, .123]
Fathers (n⫽171) 12.36 (11) .999 .997 .027 [.000, .087]
Mothers (n⫽217) 26.87 (11) .987 .975 .082 [.043, .121]
Boys (n⫽143) 18.22 (12) .985 .974 .060 [.000, .113]
Girls (n⫽105) 20.31 (13) .960 .936 .073 [.000, .132]
Fathers (n⫽124) 30.13 (12) .960 .930 .110 [.062, .160]
Mothers (n⫽125) 21.52 (14) .960 .940 .066 [.000, .118]
Note. In Study 4, one parent failed to state his or her own sex, and two
parents failed to state their child’s sex. POS ⫽Parental Overvaluation
Scale; CFI ⫽comparative fit index; TLI ⫽Tucker-Lewis index;
RMSEA ⫽root-mean-square error of approximation; CI ⫽confidence
Measurement Invariance Tests of POS Between Child and
Parent Sexes in Studies 3 and 4
CFI TLI RMSEA
Configural invariance 45.63 (23) .990 .982 .071 [.040, .101]
Metric invariance 51.27 (29) .990 .986 .063 [.033, .091]
Scalar invariance 68.87 (42) .988 .988 .057 [.031, .081]
Configural invariance 38.51 (22) .993 .986 .062 [.027, .094]
Metric invariance 44.26 (28) .993 .989 .055 [.019, .084]
Scalar invariance 62.18 (41) .990 .990 .052 [.022, .076]
Configural invariance 38.54 (25) .978 .963 .066 [.014, .105]
Metric invariance 43.53 (31) .980 .973 .057 [.000, .094]
Scalar invariance 57.71 (44) .978 .979 .050 [.000, .083]
Configural invariance 49.87 (26) .963 .941 .086 [.049, .122]
Metric invariance 50.81 (32) .971 .962 .069 [.029, .103]
Scalar invariance 62.92 (45) .972 .974 .057 [.013, .088]
Note. POS ⫽Parental Overvaluation Scale; CFI ⫽comparative fit
index; TLI ⫽Tucker-Lewis index; RMSEA ⫽root-mean-square error of
approximation; CI ⫽confidence interval.
Technique (Paulhus, Harms, Bruce, & Lysy, 2003), we presented
parents with multiple terms that children should be familiar with
by the end of sixth grade (e.g., “Anne Frank”). Parents indicated to
what extent their child is familiar with each term. Crucially, we
included terms that did not actually exist (e.g., “Queen Alberta”).
When parents claim their child to be familiar with nonexisting
terms, they “overclaim” their child’s knowledge. We expected this
tendency to be especially high in parents who overvalue their
Participants. Participants were 250 parents (50% mothers,
ages 24–74 years, M⫽41.7, SD ⫽10.1) of a child (42% girls)
between 8 and 12 years old (M⫽10.0 years, SD ⫽1.4). They
were recruited via Qualtrics panel management and were a diverse
sample of American parents who were matched on age and race/
ethnicity with the U.S. population in the 2010 census.
Procedure. As in Study 3, participants completed the POS
(Cronbach’s ␣⫽.72, M⫽1.69, SD ⫽0.54) and the Narcissistic
Personality Inventory-16 (Cronbach’s ␣⫽.84, M⫽0.31, SD ⫽
0.24). In addition, they completed measures of self-esteem, the Big
Five personality traits, perceived superiority, overclaiming, paren-
tal warmth, and parental control.
Self-esteem. Self-esteem was measured using the 10-item
(e.g., “On the whole, I am satisfied with myself” and “I feel that I
have a number of good qualities”; from 0 ⫽Strongly disagree to
6⫽Strongly agree) Self-Esteem Scale (Rosenberg, 1965; Cron-
bach’s ␣⫽.88, M⫽2.17, SD ⫽0.55).
Big Five personality traits. The Big Five personality traits
were assessed using the Ten-Item Personality Inventory (Gosling,
Rentfrow, & Swann, 2003). For each personality trait, participants
indicated how strongly a pair of traits described them (e.g., extra-
verted and enthusiastic for Extraversion; from 0 ⫽Disagree
strongly to6⫽Agree strongly). Responses were averaged across
items: Extraversion (M⫽3.06, SD ⫽1.41), Agreeableness (M⫽
4.14, SD ⫽1.12), Conscientiousness (M⫽4.58, SD ⫽1.15),
Emotional Stability (M⫽3.75, SD ⫽1.31), and Openness to
Experience (M⫽4.06, SD ⫽1.17).
Perceived superiority. Perceived superiority of the child was
assessed using the My Child Versus Other Children Scale (see
Appendix B). We developed this measure for this study by adapt-
ing the Self Versus Other Scale (Campbell, Bonacci, Shelton,
Exline, & Bushman, 2004). Participants were presented seven
images, each consisting of one “my child” circle and three “other
children” circles. The relative size of the “my child” circle grad-
ually increased from the first image (where “my child” is smaller
than other children), to the fourth image (where “my child” is the
same size as other children), to the seventh image (where “my
child” is larger than other children). Participants selected the image
that best reflected how they perceive their child compared with
other children, with higher numbers indicating higher perceived
superiority of their child over other children (M⫽4.70, SD ⫽
Overclaiming. Overclaiming was assessed using the Parental
Overclaiming Questionnaire (see Table C1), an extension of the
Over-Claiming Questionnaire (Paulhus et al., 2003) that we devel-
oped for this study. Participants were presented with 80 terms
covering four different topics (i.e., historical events, historical
figures, world geography, and literature), taken from The New
First Dictionary of Cultural Literacy (Hirsch, 2004), a dictionary
containing all terms that a child should be familiar with by the end
of sixth grade (sample items: “World War I,” “Anne Frank,”
“Berlin,” and “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”). Participants esti-
mated their child’s familiarity with each term (0 ⫽Never heard of
it,1⫽Little familiar,2⫽Somewhat familiar,3⫽Quite familiar,
4⫽Very familiar). However, 20 of these terms were foils—they
did not actually exist (sample foils: “Storming of Austria,” “Queen
Alberta,” “The Green Sea,” and “The Princess and the Grapes”).
By definition, any degree of claimed knowledge of foils (i.e.,
false alarm) indicates overclaiming of the child’s knowledge.
However, using only false alarms to index overclaiming is limited,
because people who overclaim should do so on foils as well as on
targets (Paulhus et al., 2003). Signal detection formulas overcome
this limitation by taking into account all responses, on foils as well
as on targets. Signal detection theory holds that participants’
responses reflect two factors: response bias (i.e., the general ten-
dency to respond “yes” or “no”) and sensitivity (i.e., the ability to
discriminate between targets and foils; Macmillan & Creelman,
2005). Response bias indicates overclaimed knowledge, whereas
sensitivity indicates accurately reported knowledge. We indexed
response bias using the criterion location (c) formula (reverse
scored to indicate the general tendency to respond “yes” rather
than “no”), and sensitivity using the dprime (d=) formula (Paulhus
et al., 2003; Stanislaw & Todorov, 1999).
The formulas were
applied to each of four cutoffs on the rating scale (i.e., 0–1, 1–2,
2–3, 3–4), and the resulting values were averaged across cutoffs.
Results were similar for each cutoff and each topic.
Parental warmth. Parental warmth was measured using the
eight-item (e.g., “I am really interested in what my child does” and
“I let my child know I love him/her”; from 0 ⫽Almost never true
to3⫽Almost always true) Warmth subscale of the Short Form of
the Parental Acceptance-Rejection Questionnaire (Rohner, 2005a).
Responses were averaged across items (Cronbach’s ␣⫽.87, M⫽
2.73, SD ⫽0.35).
Parental control. Parental control was measured using the
13-item (e.g., “I see to it that my child knows exactly what (s)he
may or may not do” and “I insist that my child must do exactly as
(s)he is told”; from 0 ⫽Almost never true to3⫽Almost always
true) Parental Control Scale (Rohner, 2005b). Responses were
averaged across items (Cronbach’s ␣⫽.66, M⫽2.12, SD ⫽
Correlations between the study’s main variables are displayed in
CFAs. A CFA showed that the unconditional one-factor
model showed good model fit,
(11) ⫽19.02, CFI ⫽.987, TLI ⫽
Both formulas are calculated on the basis of false-alarm rate (i.e., the
proportion of foils on which participants gave a rating above the cutoff)
and hit rate (i.e., the proportion of real items on which participants gave a
rating above the cutoff). Because the formulas cannot deal with values of 0 or 1,
values of 0 are replaced with 0.5/20 (with 20 being the number of foils) for
false-alarm rates and with 0.5/60 (with 60 being the number of targets) for
hit rates, whereas values of 1 are replaced with (20–0.5)/20 for false-alarm
rates and with (60–0.5)/60 for hit rates (Macmillan & Kaplan, 1985;
Stanislaw & Todorov, 1999).
6BRUMMELMAN ET AL.
.975, RMSEA ⫽.054, 90% CI [.000, .094]. Standardized factor
loadings of this one-factor model ranged from .37 to .73 (see Table
1).Measurement invariance analyses. We first estimated the
CFA model in boys and girls separately. The one-factor model
showed good model fit for boys and acceptable-to-good model fit
for girls (see Table 3). We then tested for configural, metric, and
scalar invariance between boys and girls. All models showed
acceptable-to-good fit to the data (see Table 4). Importantly,
chi-square difference tests (L. K. Muthén & Muthén, 2012) re-
vealed no significant differences in model fit between the config-
ural and metric model (p⫽.31), and between the metric and scalar
model (p⫽.26). Thus, the one-factor model showed strong
measurement invariance between boys and girls.
We also estimated the CFA model in fathers and mothers
separately. The one-factor model showed acceptable-to-good
model fit for both fathers and mothers (see Table 3). We then
tested for configural, metric, and scalar invariance between fathers
and mothers. All models showed acceptable-to-good fit to the data
(see Table 4). Importantly, chi-square difference tests (L. K.
Muthén & Muthén, 2012) revealed no significant differences in
model fit between the configural and metric model (p⫽.53), and
between the metric and scalar model (p⫽.36). Thus, the one-
factor model showed strong measurement invariance between fa-
thers and mothers.
Preliminary analyses. Skewness (.02, SE ⫽0.15) and kurto-
sis (–.16, SE ⫽0.31) estimates indicate adequate normality for the
Personality and parenting. Replicating Study 3, overvalu-
ation was positively related to parental narcissism, r(246) ⫽.37,
p⬍.001. Extending Study 3, overvaluation was unrelated to
parental self-esteem, r(245) ⫽.03, p⫽.654. Also extending Study
3, overvaluation was largely unrelated to basic parenting dimen-
sions and Big Five personality traits. In particular, overvaluation
was unrelated to parental control, Conscientiousness, Emotional
Stability, Openness to Experience, and Agreeableness (|.02| ⬍rs⬍
|.09|, ps⬎.168). It was positively related to parental warmth and
Extraversion, r(246) ⫽.14, p⫽.028; and, r(244) ⫽.18, p⫽.005,
respectively, but these relationships became nonsignificant when
narcissism was controlled for, t(243) ⫽1.78, p⫽.076, b⫽0.08,
␤⫽.12; and, t(243) ⫽0.34, p⫽.737, b⫽0.06, ␤⫽.02, respec-
Perceived superiority. Overvaluation was related to parents’
tendency to perceive their child as superior to other children (i.e.,
parents who overvalue their child see their child as “bigger” than
other children), r(247) ⫽.26, p⬍.001. This relationship remained
significant even when narcissism, self-esteem, Big Five traits, and
parenting dimensions (warmth, control) were controlled for,
t(232) ⫽2.90, p⫽.004, b⫽0.51, ␤⫽.20.
Overclaiming. Crucially, overvaluation was also related to
parents’ overclaiming of their child’s knowledge, r(247) ⫽.29,
p⬍.001: Parents who overvalue their child often claim their child
to have knowledge of many different topics, including topics that
do not exist. By contrast, overvaluation was unrelated to parents’
accurately reported knowledge of their child, r(247) ⫽.07, p⫽
.256. The relationship between overvaluation and overclaiming
remained significant even when narcissism, self-esteem, Big Five
traits, parenting dimensions (warmth, control), and accurately re-
ported knowledge were controlled for, t(231) ⫽2.91, p⫽.004,
b⫽0.28, ␤⫽.19. This constitutes the first behavioral evidence
that overvaluing parents actively overclaim their child’s qualities.
These findings corroborate, in a diverse sample of American
parents, the factor structure of the POS and its measurement
invariance between boys and girls and between fathers and moth-
ers. Study 4 extends Study 3 in three important ways. First, it
Given that the POS has strong measurement invariances across sexes,
we can interpret sex differences in overvaluation. We combined data from
all studies (N⫽1,757, using only Wave 1 of Study 2) and found that
overvaluation did not differ between boys (M⫽1.28, SD ⫽0.58) and girls
(M⫽1.23, SD ⫽0.56) (t⫽1.48, p⫽.140, d⫽0.07, 95% CI [⫺0.02,
0.17]), but was higher in fathers (M⫽1.36, SD ⫽.56) than mothers (M⫽
1.18, SD ⫽.56) (t⫽6.42, p⬍.001, d⫽0.32, 95% CI [0.22, 0.42]).
Although contrary to common belief, the latter finding might result from
men placing higher value on standing out from others than women do
(Trapnell & Paulhus, 2012).
Zero-Order Correlations Among Main Variables in Study 3
1. Parental overvaluation 250 —
2. Perceived superiority 249 .26
3. Overclaiming 249 .29
4. Accuracy 249 .07 .07 .26
5. Narcissism 248 .37
6. Self-esteem 247 .03 .12 .07 .32
7. Extraversion 246 .18
8. Agreeableness 246 ⫺.02 .05 ⫺.04 .20
9. Conscientiousness 246 ⫺.03 ⫺.03 ⫺.11 .22
10. Emotional Stability 246 ⫺.03 .01 .03 .19
11. Openness to Experience 246 .06 .14
12. Warmth 248 .14
13. Control 249 .09 .02 ⫺.05 .06 ⫺.04 .17
.01 .08 .15
.09 ⫺.02 .13
Note. N ⫽250. There were a few missing values (n⫽0–4 per variable) because a few participants dropped out over the course of questionnaire
demonstrates that parental overvaluation is associated with par-
ents’ tendency to perceive their child as superior to others and to
overclaim their child’s capacities. Importantly, overvaluation was
not associated with parents’ accurate reports of their child’s
knowledge. Second, this study demonstrates that parental over-
valuation is largely unrelated to basic parenting dimensions (i.e.,
warmth, control) and Big Five personality traits. Overvaluation
was related to parental warmth and Extraversion: Parents who
overvalue their child appeared to be somewhat more affectionate
and outgoing than other parents. But because these relationships
were unexpected and small in size, we attempted to replicate them
in Study 6. Third, Study 4 shows that parental overvaluation is
unrelated to parental self-esteem but is positively related to nar-
cissism, attesting to the specificity of the overvaluation–narcissism
Study 4 shows that overvaluation is associated with parents’
inclination to “overclaim” their child’s knowledge. An important
question is whether this finding generalizes to other domains and
to other measures of overestimation of the child’s abilities. In
Study 5, we used a “discrepancy method,” where parents’ beliefs
are compared with an objective criterion (Paulhus & Holden,
2010). We examined whether parental overvaluation is associated
with parents’ views of their child as gifted above and beyond an
objective criterion—children’s actual IQ scores. We also exam-
ined whether overvalued children are more intelligent than other
Participants. Participants were 82 parents (74% mothers,
ages 33–63 years, M⫽44.90, SD ⫽4.93) and their child (46%
girls) between 11 and 13 years old (M⫽12.53, SD ⫽0.45). They
were recruited via a gymnasium secondary school in the Nether-
lands (comparable to a public university-preparatory school in the
United States). All children received active parental consent and
Procedure. Parents completed the POS (Cronbach’s ␣⫽.70,
M⫽1.11, SD ⫽0.46) and three items indexing the perceived
giftedness of their child (e.g., “I see my child as gifted”; from 0 ⫽
Not at all true to 4 ⫽Completely true; Cronbach’s ␣⫽.96, M⫽
1.84, SD ⫽1.31). Under supervision of a trained assistant, children
completed a standardized Dutch intelligence test—the Dutch In-
telligence Test for Educational Level (Nederlandse Intelligentiet-
est voor Onderwijsniveau; van Dijk & Tellegen, 2004). We ob-
tained children’s total intelligence score (M⫽119.52, SD ⫽
Results and Discussion
Correlations were as predicted: Overvaluation was positively
correlated with perceived giftedness, r(80) ⫽.25, p⫽.027, but
was unrelated to actual intelligence, r(80) ⫽–.06, p⫽.596.
Perceived giftedness was positively correlated with actual intelli-
gence, r(80) ⫽.24, p⫽.033. As the most stringent test of our
hypothesis: Overvaluation was positively correlated with per-
ceived giftedness even when actual intelligence was controlled for,
t(79) ⫽2.46, p⫽.016, b⫽.74, ␤⫽.26.
Thus, Study 5 provides a conceptual replication of Study 4 and
shows that overvaluation is associated with parents’ perceptions of
their child as more gifted than actual IQ scores justify. In addition,
this study demonstrates that overvalued children are not more
intelligent than other children.
Study 6 had four aims. The first and most important aim was to
examine how overvaluation is related to actual parenting practices.
We addressed this question by conducting in-home observations of
parent–child interactions. We examined whether overvaluation is
associated with parental praise. Parents were observed while they
were administering mathematics exercises to their child—a proto-
typical performance context for elementary school-age children.
Praise was operationalized as spoken positive evaluations of the
child (Henderlong & Lepper, 2002; Kanouse et al., 1981). We also
measured children’s actual performance on the mathematics exer-
In addition, Study 6 aimed to provide a novel behavioral test of
the idea that parents who overvalue their child often want their
child to stand out from the crowd. One way to accomplish this is
by giving their children unique, uncommon names (Twenge,
Abebe, & Campbell, 2010; Varnum & Kitayama, 2011). Naming
practices provide a window into the values that parents adhere to
(Finch, 2008). By giving their child a name that very few other
children have, parents may express the value of standing out from
others. We therefore expected parents who overvalue their children
to have children with more unique, uncommon names.
Another aim was to explore the possibility that overvalued
children have certain basic temperamental characteristics that
make them more likely to be overvalued by their parents. For this
purpose, we assessed children’s behavioral inhibition and activa-
tion, which are considered the motivational building blocks of
personality (e.g., Elliot & Thrash, 2002; Rothbart, Ahadi, & Evans,
2000). For example, behavioral activation is believed to be central
to extraversion (Depue & Collins, 1999; Elliot & Thrash, 2002;
Rothbart et al., 2000). We had no a priori expectations about the
association between parental overvaluation and children’s basic
An additional aim of Study 6 was to replicate the link between
overvaluation and narcissism, basic parenting dimensions, and Big
Five personality traits.
Participants. Participants were 103 parents (88% mothers,
ages 30–62 years, M⫽43.4, SD ⫽4.1) and their child (51% girls)
between 7 and 11 years old (M⫽8.9, SD ⫽0.9).
randomly selected from the sample described in Study 2. All
parents provided active informed consent for their child to partic-
ipate (parental consent rate ⫽56%), and children assented them-
selves (assent rate ⫽100%).
Procedure. Several days before the in-home observation, par-
ents completed the POS (Cronbach’s ␣⫽.73, M⫽1.20, SD ⫽
One hundred twenty parents participated in the in-home observations.
However, data of four participants were lost due to camera failure, and 13
participants did not complete the POS.
8BRUMMELMAN ET AL.
0.48), the Narcissistic Personality Inventory-16 (Cronbach’s ␣⫽
.69, M⫽0.24, SD ⫽0.17), the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale
(Cronbach’s ␣⫽.86, M⫽2.47, SD ⫽0.45), the Warmth subscale
of the Short Form of the Parental Acceptance-Rejection Question-
naire (Cronbach’s ␣⫽.76, M⫽2.71, SD ⫽0.27), and the
Parental Control Scale (Cronbach’s ␣⫽.66, M⫽1.64, SD ⫽
0.30). On the day of the observation, parents completed the Ten-
Item Personality Inventory (Extraversion: M⫽4.26, SD ⫽1.39;
Agreeableness: M⫽4.09, SD ⫽0.85; Conscientiousness: M⫽
4.47, SD ⫽1.07; Emotional Stability: M⫽4.02, SD ⫽1.16;
Openness to Experience, M⫽4.49, SD ⫽0.96).
Furthermore, children completed late-childhood versions of the
seven-item Behavioral Inhibition System (BIS) scale (e.g., “I
worry about making mistakes”; Cronbach’s ␣⫽.70, M⫽1.36,
SD ⫽0.57) and 13-item Behavioral Activation System (BAS)
scale (e.g., “I get thrilled when good things happen to me”;
Cronbach’s ␣⫽.84, M⫽1.69, SD ⫽0.53; from 0 ⫽Not at all
true to3⫽Completely true; Muris, Meesters, de Kanter, &
In-home observation. During the in-home observations, par-
ents were instructed to administer mathematics exercises to their
child (i.e., Exercises 5–16 from the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for
Children-III; Wechsler, 1991). Parents were given a stopwatch and
a score sheet, and judged whether the child correctly completed the
exercise within 30 s (mean number of correct answers ⫽11.09,
SD ⫽1.06). Research assistants left the room until the exercises
were completed, which took about 5 min. The session was video-
taped. Two trained coders, blind to parents’ overvaluation scores,
counted the number of times parents praised their child (agree-
Results and Discussion
Preliminary analyses. Replicating Studies 2 and 3, overvalu-
ation was positively correlated with narcissism, r(96) ⫽.38, p⬍
.001. By contrast, overvaluation was unrelated to self-esteem, Big
Five Traits, and parenting dimensions of warmth and control
(|.02| ⬍rs⬍|.10|, ps⬎.338). Thus, unlike in Study 4, overvalu-
ation was unrelated to warmth and Extraversion.
Child temperament. Parental overvaluation was unrelated to
children’s BIS and BAS, r(100) ⫽.03, p⫽.749; and,
r(100)⫽⫺.06, p⫽.584, respectively.
This finding suggests that
overvalued children are not different from other children in terms
of their basic temperamental characteristics.
Unique names. We used a Dutch database (The Corpus of
First Names in The Netherlands; Meertens Instituut, 2013) to
obtain the annual frequency of the child’s first name (i.e., the
proportion of same-sex children born in the child’s year of birth
with the same first name as the child) in the Netherlands. For
example, if Bob is a boy, and he was born in 2001, we coded the
proportion of boys born in 2001 who received the name Bob.
Because the database is confined to children born in the Nether-
lands and because it does not contain double names (e.g., “Klaas
Jan”), parents whose child was born outside the Netherlands or had
a double name were excluded from the analyses of first-name data
As predicted, overvaluation was correlated with unique, less
common names in children, r(94) ⫽–.23, p⫽.025. This relation-
ship remained significant, albeit marginally, even when narcis-
sism, self-esteem, Big Five traits, and parenting dimensions
(warmth, control) were controlled for, t(76) ⫽–1.93, p⫽.058,
b⫽–0.14, ␤⫽–.21. This finding suggests that overvaluing
parents want their child to stand out from others.
Praise. On average, parents praised their child 6.58 times
(SD ⫽3.95). As predicted, overvaluation was correlated with a
higher frequency of praise, r(101) ⫽.25, p⫽.011, but was
unrelated to children’s number of correct answers, r(101) ⫽–.05,
p⫽.654. In fact, parents high (⫹1SD) in overvaluation praised
their child 62% more often than did parents low (–1 SD)in
overvaluation. By contrast, narcissism, self-esteem, Big Five traits,
and parenting dimensions (warmth, control) and children’s number
of correct answers were unrelated to frequency of praise (|.07| ⬍
rs⬍|.19|, ps⬎.055), and the association between overvaluation
and praise remained significant even when these variables were
controlled for, t(82) ⫽2.24, p⫽.028, b⫽1.91, ␤⫽.24.
Thus, overvaluation predicts parents’ tendency to praise their
child in a real-life setting. Importantly, overvaluation was unre-
lated to children’s actual performance in this setting.
Few of us would dispute that some parents hold unrealistically
positive, inflated views of their children. To date, however, such
parental overvaluation has rarely been studied as an individual-
difference variable. We developed the POS to measure individual
differences in parental overvaluation. Across six studies using
multiple methods across two different cultures, we show that
parental overvaluation can be measured reliably and validly using
the POS. Parental overvaluation is related to parental narcissism,
to parents’ unrealistically positive views of their child, and to
parents’ desire for their child to stand out from others. In addition,
it predicts parents’ tendency to praise their child frequently. By
contrast, parental overvaluation is not consistently related to par-
ents’ basic parenting dimensions (i.e., warmth and control) and Big
Five personality traits. Together, these findings support the valid-
ity of the POS and demonstrate that parental overvaluation has
important and unique implications for parents’ beliefs and prac-
Validity of the POS
In Studies 1–4, we investigated the psychometric properties of
the POS. The POS is a concise measure of stable individual
differences in parental overvaluation. The scale has an internally
consistent single-factor structure and high test–retest stability.
Scores on the POS are relatively normally distributed, indicating
We relied on child-reported temperament to prevent common method
variance (Podsakoff, MacKenzie, Lee, & Podsakoff, 2003) from affecting
the association between parental overvaluation and child temperament.
However, results for parent-reported child temperament are identical. Par-
ents completed the Sensitivity to Punishment and Sensitivity to Reward
Questionnaire for Children (Luman, van Meel, Oosterlaan, & Geurts,
2012), which includes a 15-item BIS subscale (e.g., “Your child often
worries about things he/she said or did”; Cronbach’s ␣⫽.90, M⫽1.50,
SD ⫽0.72) and a 19-item BAS subscale (e.g., “When your child gets
something he/she wants, he/she feels excited and energized”; Cronbach’s
␣⫽.83, M⫽1.72, SD ⫽0.53; from 0 ⫽Totally disagree to 4 ⫽Totally
agree). Again, parental overvaluation was unrelated to children’s BIS and
BAS, r(101) ⫽–.15, p⫽.141; and, r(101) ⫽.09, p⫽.372, respectively.
that overvaluation is not uncommon or atypical—rather, overvalu-
ation is a trait on which parents from the general population differ
gradually from one another. Furthermore, in a representative sam-
ple of Dutch parents and a diverse sample of American parents, we
explored the measurement invariance of the POS between boys
and girls and between fathers and mothers. The POS showed
strong measurement invariance in both studies, which means that
the POS assesses the same latent construct regardless of child and
parent sex. In Studies 3–6, we investigated the discriminant,
convergent, and criterion validity of the POS. Attesting to its
discriminant validity, the POS was largely unrelated to basic
parenting dimensions and Big Five personality traits, with the
possible exception of parental warmth and Extraversion. In addi-
tion, the POS was unrelated to children’s intelligence, mathematics
performance, and basic temperamental characteristics. Attesting to
its convergent validity, the POS was associated with parental
narcissism, with parents’ perceptions of their child as superior to
others, with their overclaiming of their child’s knowledge, with
their perceptions of their child as more gifted than actual IQ scores
justify, and with children’s unique, uncommon names. Attesting to
its criterion validity, the POS predicted parents’ tendency to fre-
quently praise their child in a real-life setting.
Our findings demonstrate pronounced individual differences in
parental overvaluation. An important question is why some parents
hold unrealistically positive—and therefore inaccurate—views of
their children. We suggest that parental overvaluation might serve
the purpose of self-enhancement. People have a pervasive motive
to self-enhance (Sedikides, Gaertner, & Vevea, 2005). However,
blatant self-enhancement is often met with resistance; those who
publicly claim their superiority are often disapproved by others
(Leary, Bednarski, Hammon, & Duncan, 1997). Overvaluation,
however, might represent a concealed, more tactical attempt to
self-enhance. Because children are often an important part of
parents’ selves (Brummelman et al., 2013), holding inflated views
of children might represent an indirect means for parents to en-
hance themselves (cf. J. D. Brown & Han, 2012; Masterson, 2000).
Consistent with this view, our findings show that parental over-
valuation is especially high in narcissistic parents. Narcissists are
habitually inclined to enhance themselves (Morf & Rhodewalt,
2001), and they might try to do so by holding inflated perceptions
of their child’s traits, behaviors, and accomplishments (N. W.
Brown, 1998; Miller, 1981).
A large body of research shows that people often hold positive
illusions about their significant others (e.g., Hall & Taylor, 1976;
Wenger & Fowers, 2008). However, overvaluation might be es-
pecially high in parent–child relationships, for two reasons. First,
parents often perceive their child as an important part of them-
selves (Brummelman et al., 2013). Given that parents always hold
a genetic tie to their children, this psychological “unity” between
parent and child is unlikely to dissolve. The more people regard
others as part of themselves, the more likely they are to ascribe
positive qualities to them (Martz et al., 1998). Second, parents
often invest great effort in their child’s upbringing. People place
greater value on things they worked harder for (Aronson & Mills,
1959). Previous work suggest that, similarly, the more effort
parents invest in a child, the more they might come to overvalue
this child (Cohen & Fowers, 2004; cf. Eibach & Mock, 2011).
Strengths and Limitations
We used rigorous methods in our research. We used a step-by-
step approach to construct the POS, and we used stringent analyses
to evaluate its factor structure and its measurement invariance in
large samples of parents consisting of a well-balanced number of
fathers and mothers from two different cultures. We explored the
correlates of parental overvaluation using both questionnaires,
novel unobtrusive behavioral measures, and observations of natu-
ralistic parent–child interactions. We showed that the correlates of
the POS are unique, and are not explained by basic parenting
dimensions, narcissism, self-esteem, or Big Five personality traits.
We assessed objective outcomes, such as IQ, to show that over-
valuation does not result from objective competency differences
between children. As such, our research represents a stringent and
thorough examination of the validity of parental overvaluation.
Our research also has limitations. First, our data are correla-
tional. An important task for future research is to use experimental
and longitudinal methods to unravel the antecedents and conse-
quences of parental overvaluation. Does parental narcissism pre-
dict increases in overvaluation over time? And is this mediated by
parents’ self-enhancement motives? Can parental overvaluation be
temporarily increased (e.g., by having parents reflect on what
makes their child stand out from others)? And does such increased
overvaluation lead parents to praise their children more fre-
Second, we chose to study parents of children in late child-
hood—a time when individual differences in parental overvalu-
ation might be relatively large, and when parental overvaluation
might be especially consequential for children’s self-views and
behaviors. Thus, the generalizability of the study findings to par-
ents of children of other ages remains unknown. Interesting ques-
tions are whether the level and the consequences of overvaluation
change over the course of children’s development. Overvaluation
may be especially high when children are young, when parents’
beliefs about their child’s qualities have not yet been tested against
reality (Wenger & Fowers, 2008). Overvaluation may be espe-
cially consequential in older children, who readily internalize
others’ views of them, and who seek to live up to these views
(Harter, 2012). Addressing these questions is important for under-
standing overvaluation and its consequences within children’s
Third, another question that remains is whether overvalued
children have certain characteristics that make them more likely to
be overvalued by their parents. Our studies included objective
criteria (i.e., IQ tests) and demonstrate that overvalued children are
not more intelligent (Study 5) or better performing (Study 6) than
other children, although their parents believe they are. In addition,
overvalued children do not differ from other children in terms of
their basic temperamental characteristics (Study 6). However, a
limitation of our research is that it does not rule out that overvalued
children have certain nonintellectual skills (e.g., charm) that make
them more “valuable” in parents’ eyes. Future research should
examine this interesting possibility.
10 BRUMMELMAN ET AL.
New Research Directions
By delineating the construct of parental overvaluation, the present
research opens up new avenues for future research. One important
direction is to examine how parental overvaluation affects children’s
development. Children readily internalize their parents’ views of them
(Cooley, 1902; Harter, 2012). On the basis of this idea, theorists and
clinicians have long viewed parental overvaluation as an important
cause of narcissism (for an overview, see Thomaes & Brummelman,
in press). Narcissistic children believe they are superior to others and
feel more entitled than others, yet at the same time crave other
people’s admiration to feel good about themselves (Morf & Rhode-
walt, 2001; Thomaes, Stegge, Bushman, Olthof, & Denissen, 2008).
According to social-learning perspectives, parental overvaluation con-
veys to children that they are superior to others, and that they deserve
special treatment and praise (Imbesi, 1999; Millon, 1969, 2011). Our
findings confirm, in a naturalistic setting, that overvaluation predicts
parental praise. Although seemingly benign, praise can backfire
(Brummelman et al., 2014; Brummelman, Thomaes, Overbeek, et al.,
2014; Mueller & Dweck, 1998). In fact, praise might have addictive
qualities (Baumeister & Vohs, 2001; Bushman, Moeller, & Crocker,
2011). Over the course of development, children who are overvalued
by their parents might become dependent on such external validation
to feel worthy (Thomaes, Brummelman, Reijntjes, & Bushman, 2013;
Thomaes, Bushman, Orobio de Castro, & Stegge, 2009). Parental
overvaluation may thus foster core characteristics of narcissism in
Preliminary evidence is consistent with this prediction. A correla-
tional study revealed that adult narcissism was related to self-reported
recollections of parental overvaluation (Otway & Vignoles, 2006).
However, this study is retrospective and correlational, and it exclu-
sively relied on self-report. It is perhaps not surprising that adult
narcissists report that their parents admired them—they typically feel
admired by many people (Morf & Rhodewalt, 2001; Rhodewalt &
Eddings, 2002). What is needed is prospective longitudinal research
tracking the bidirectional associations between parent-reported paren-
tal overvaluation and child-reported narcissism over time in child-
Another interesting research direction is to examine whether over-
valuation differs between parent–child dyads within the same family.
Do parents who overvalue one child also overvalue their other chil-
dren? Or do they target their overvaluation at one child in particular,
perhaps as a function of children’s birth order? It is well documented
that parents often favor one child over their other children (for an
overview, see Suitor et al., 2008). First-born and last-born children are
especially likely to be favored by their parents (Hertwig, Davis, &
Sulloway, 2002). When overvaluation is directed at one child in
particular and fosters comparisons among siblings, it might function
as a double-edged sword: It might instill in the “favorite” a sense of
superiority, yet in his or her siblings a sense of inferiority. Future
research might shed light on these possible within-family dynamics.
Our research focused on parents from Western, individualistic
cultures. Future research should examine the cultural specificity of
parental overvaluation. One possibility is that parental overvaluation
is higher in Western than non-Western cultures. Although the motive
to self-enhance is probably universal, people from Western cultures
self-enhance more on individualistic traits, such as standing out from
others (Sedikides, Gaertner, & Vevea, 2005). Overvaluing their chil-
dren might be one means for Western parents to stand out from others.
Another possibility is that parental overvaluation is higher in non-
Western than Western cultures. Relationships are more self-defining
in non-Western cultures (Markus & Kitayama, 1991). For example,
Chinese mothers’ feelings of worth are more contingent upon chil-
dren’s academic performance than are those of European or African
American mothers (Ng, Pomerantz, & Deng, 2013). Thus, especially
in non-Western cultures, overvaluing children might make parents
feel of worth.
Some parents consider their child to be “God’s gift to humanity.”
Although pervasive in everyday life and psychological theory, paren-
tal overvaluation has rarely been empirically studied as an individual-
difference variable. Our research introduces a concise self-report
measure of parental overvaluation, the POS. Our findings show that
overvaluation is especially high in narcissistic parents and that over-
valuation has important implications for parenting beliefs and prac-
tices that are not captured by existing parenting measures. Thus, our
research sheds novel light on the nature, measurement, and correlates
of parental overvaluation. We hope that our research will inspire
researchers to study parental overvaluation and to unravel its impact
on parents’ and children’s lives.
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Parental Overvaluation Scale
Here are a number of statements describing ways in which
parents can think about their child. Please indicate for each state-
ment how well it describes the way you think about your child.
1. Without my child, his/her class would be much less fun.
2. My child deserves special treatment.
3. I would not be surprised to learn that my child has extraor-
dinary talents and abilities.
4. I would find it disappointing if my child was just a “regular” child.
5. My child is more special than other children.
6. My child deserves something extra in life.
7. My child is a great example for other children to follow.
Note. Responses are scored on 4-point Likert-scales (0 ⫽Not at all true,
1⫽Not really true,2⫽Sort of true,3⫽Completely true). The Dutch
version of the Parental Overvaluation Scale can be obtained from the first
My Child Versus Other Children Scale
Please write the number of the diagram (1–7) that best represents how you see your child “M” compared to other children “O”? ___
14 BRUMMELMAN ET AL.
Parental Overclaiming Questionnaire
Please estimate your child’s familiarity with these terms (0 ⫽Never heard of it;1⫽Little familiar;2⫽Somewhat familiar;3⫽Quite
familiar;4⫽Very familiar). The questions address your estimation of your child’s familiarity with terms, so please don’t check answers
with your child. (
Historical events Historical figures World geography Literature
1. French Revolution 21. Winston Churchill 41. Balkans 61. Sherlock Holmes
2. Beijing Revolution
22. Franklin D. Roosevelt 42. Cape of Good Hope 62. Animal Farm
3. Great Depression 23. Neil Armstrong 43. Baltic Sea 63. The Blind Men and the Elephant
4. Renaissance 24. Nelson Amrabat
44. Yugoslavia 64. Odyssey
5. Seventy Years’ War
25. Anne Frank 45. Sicilian River
65. The Sunny Garden
6. Vietnam War 26. Fidel Castro 46. Istanbul 66. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
7. German War on Independence
27. George-William IIV
67. The Princess and the Grapes
8. Battle of Waterloo 28. Mahatma Gandhi 48. Berlin 68. Lord of the Flies
9. Concentration camp 29. Alexander the Great 49. Oslo 69. Doctor Fehr
10. The Fall of the French Dynasty
30. Queen Alberta
50. The Green Sea
70. Arabian Nights
11. World War I 31. Lenin 51. Gobi Dessert 71. Rip van Winkle
12. Cold War 32. Miguel Alvaro
52. Cyprus 72. The Catcher in the Rye
13. Gulf War 33. Mussolini 53. Mont Blanc 73. The Owl and the Spider
14. Civil Rights Movement 34. Emiliano Zapata 54. Colombia 74. Charlotte’s Web
15. Holocaust 35. Brutus 55. Gaza Strip 75. Don Quixote
16. D-Day 36. Ivan the Terrible 56. The Great Mountains
76. The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs
17. Reformation 37. Kidd Captain 57. Caspian Sea 77. The Wind in the Willows
18. Manhattan Project 38. El Puente
58. Black Sea 78. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
19. Storming of Austria
39. Captain James Cook 59. Albania 79. Pollyanna
20. Apartheid 40. Oliver Cromwell 60. Russian Passage
80. The Tale of Benson Bunny
Received December 7, 2013
Revision received March 31, 2014
Accepted April 2, 2014 䡲