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11th Edition

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Chapter  7Family Communication Patterns Theory


  1. Early family experiences shape how we think, act, and communicate throughout our lives.
    1. Koerner and Fitzpatrick believe that family’s talk exerts great power over how its members experience life.
    2. They refer to this talk as family communication patterns, or repeated communication beliefs and behaviors that orient family members towards a shared reality.
  1. Communication that creates a shared reality
    1. The theory builds upon the work of mass communication scholars Jack McLeod and Steven Chaffee.
    2. McLeod looked at how families talked about political messages using either conformity or conversation.
    3. Families that exhibit high conformity orientation create a shared reality by emphasizing parental authority.
    4. High conversational orientation doesn’t emphasize parental authority or knowledge; instead a shared reality emerges from open discussion and debate of ideas.
    5. Each orientation represents a distinct way of creating a shared social reality.
    6. They call this coorientation or “a situation where two or more individuals focus their cognitive attention on the same object in their social or physical environment and form beliefs and attitudes about the object.”
    7. Coorientation doesn’t mean that family members always agree with each other, but most families experience pressure to achieve at least some level of agreement.
    8. Conversation and conformity are two different means of achieving such coorientation.
  1. Conversation and conformity form four family types
    1. Almost all families contain some mixture of conformity and conversation orientation, though they are inversely related.
      1. Pluralistic families exhibit high conversation and low conformity orientations.
      2. Protective families stress high conformity with low conversation orientation.
      3. Laissez-faire families—meaning “hands-off”—are low in both conversation and conformity.
      4. Consensual families report highs in both conversation and conformity orientations.
    2. Families might look very different from each other, and research suggests that certain types may be healthier than others.
  1. Family communication patterns and the first year of college
    1. In protective families, parents invade their children’s privacy.
      1. Students from protective families were much more likely to report that their parents did things like ask personal questions, read their emails, or check on social media feeds.
      2. This didn’t occur in either laissez—faire or pluralistic families, which makes sense given a low conformity orientation.
      3. But in consensual families—despite high conformity orientations—parents don’t snoop.
    2. For students, privacy invasions were tolerable at first but got worse later on.
      1. Early on, privacy invasions didn’t impact well-being.
      2. Both high conversation and low conformity orientations were helpful to mitigate negative effects.
    3. Consensual families are at risk too.
      1. Consensual parents were less likely to pry; however, their children were less likely to defend their parents’ actions.
      2. Consensual families may also risk generating too much dependence on parents and when that happens, it may threaten the mental health of young adult children.
  1. Schemas with long-lasting effects
    1. In the workplace, employees who were raised in high conformity households as children are much more likely to keep their on-the-job concerns to themselves.
    2. Elizabeth Graham found that adults raised in consensual families were more likely to discuss and participate in political activities compared to those raised in other forms of families. Children from laissez-faire households were the least politically engaged as adults.
    3. Emily Rauscher found that family communication patterns span generations though are capable of change with deliberate choices.
    4. Koerner and Fitzpatrick argue that communication patterns are schema or mental representations of knowledge.
    5. Through these communication patterns, families equip children with schema for understanding all social relationships.
  1. Critique: More conversations are needed about conformity
    1. There is one key reason why family communication patterns theory reigns as the leading family communication theory: relative simplicity.
    2. The theory’s testable hypotheses have enabled scholars to predict how family communication patterns are associated with many diverse outcomes.
    3. Quantitative research suggests that there may be no area of human life untouched by family communication patterns.
    4. The theory’s weakness lies in the ability of conformity orientation to explain the data.
    5. Given family’s formative role in life and foundational place in culture, few things in relational life are more practically useful than understanding it.


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Theory Outlines
11th Edition

From the Instructors Manual

List mode: Normal (click on theory name to show detail) | Show All details | Clear details

Chapter  7Family Communication Patterns Theory


  1. Early family experiences shape how we think, act, and communicate throughout our lives.
    1. Koerner and Fitzpatrick believe that family’s talk exerts great power over how its members experience life.
    2. They refer to this talk as family communication patterns, or repeated communication beliefs and behaviors that orient family members towards a shared reality.
  1. Communication that creates a shared reality
    1. The theory builds upon the work of mass communication scholars Jack McLeod and Steven Chaffee.
    2. McLeod looked at how families talked about political messages using either conformity or conversation.
    3. Families that exhibit high conformity orientation create a shared reality by emphasizing parental authority.
    4. High conversational orientation doesn’t emphasize parental authority or knowledge; instead a shared reality emerges from open discussion and debate of ideas.
    5. Each orientation represents a distinct way of creating a shared social reality.
    6. They call this coorientation or “a situation where two or more individuals focus their cognitive attention on the same object in their social or physical environment and form beliefs and attitudes about the object.”
    7. Coorientation doesn’t mean that family members always agree with each other, but most families experience pressure to achieve at least some level of agreement.
    8. Conversation and conformity are two different means of achieving such coorientation.
  1. Conversation and conformity form four family types
    1. Almost all families contain some mixture of conformity and conversation orientation, though they are inversely related.
      1. Pluralistic families exhibit high conversation and low conformity orientations.
      2. Protective families stress high conformity with low conversation orientation.
      3. Laissez-faire families—meaning “hands-off”—are low in both conversation and conformity.
      4. Consensual families report highs in both conversation and conformity orientations.
    2. Families might look very different from each other, and research suggests that certain types may be healthier than others.
  1. Family communication patterns and the first year of college
    1. In protective families, parents invade their children’s privacy.
      1. Students from protective families were much more likely to report that their parents did things like ask personal questions, read their emails, or check on social media feeds.
      2. This didn’t occur in either laissez—faire or pluralistic families, which makes sense given a low conformity orientation.
      3. But in consensual families—despite high conformity orientations—parents don’t snoop.
    2. For students, privacy invasions were tolerable at first but got worse later on.
      1. Early on, privacy invasions didn’t impact well-being.
      2. Both high conversation and low conformity orientations were helpful to mitigate negative effects.
    3. Consensual families are at risk too.
      1. Consensual parents were less likely to pry; however, their children were less likely to defend their parents’ actions.
      2. Consensual families may also risk generating too much dependence on parents and when that happens, it may threaten the mental health of young adult children.
  1. Schemas with long-lasting effects
    1. In the workplace, employees who were raised in high conformity households as children are much more likely to keep their on-the-job concerns to themselves.
    2. Elizabeth Graham found that adults raised in consensual families were more likely to discuss and participate in political activities compared to those raised in other forms of families. Children from laissez-faire households were the least politically engaged as adults.
    3. Emily Rauscher found that family communication patterns span generations though are capable of change with deliberate choices.
    4. Koerner and Fitzpatrick argue that communication patterns are schema or mental representations of knowledge.
    5. Through these communication patterns, families equip children with schema for understanding all social relationships.
  1. Critique: More conversations are needed about conformity
    1. There is one key reason why family communication patterns theory reigns as the leading family communication theory: relative simplicity.
    2. The theory’s testable hypotheses have enabled scholars to predict how family communication patterns are associated with many diverse outcomes.
    3. Quantitative research suggests that there may be no area of human life untouched by family communication patterns.
    4. The theory’s weakness lies in the ability of conformity orientation to explain the data.
    5. Given family’s formative role in life and foundational place in culture, few things in relational life are more practically useful than understanding it.


You can access the Outline for a particular chapter in several ways:

  • Switch to View by Theory, then select the desired theory/chapter from the drop-down list at the top of the page. Look in the list of available resources.
  • To quickly find a theory by chapter number, use the Table of Contents and link from there. It will take you directly to the theory with available options highlighted.
  • You can also use the Theory List, which will take you directly to the theory with available options highlighted.

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