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Teens Less Likely to Cooperate When Moms Speak in a Controlling Voice

A new study has found that teens are less likely to cooperate and put effort into their mother’s requests when they are said in a controlling tone of voice.

Speaking in a “pressurizing tone” also elicits a range of negative emotions and less feelings of closeness, according to researchers at Cardiff University in the UK.

According to researchers, the study, which included more than 1,000 14 and 15 year olds, is the first to examine how teens respond to the tone of voice when receiving instructions from their mothers, even when the specific words that are used are exactly the same.

“If parents want conversations with their teens to have the most benefit, it’s important to remember to use supportive tones of voice,” said Dr. Netta Weinstein, lead author of the study. “It’s easy for parents to forget, especially if they are feeling stressed, tired, or pressured themselves.”

The study’s findings showed that teenagers were much more likely to engage with instructions that conveyed a sense of encouragement and support for self-expression and choice.

The results also could be relevant to schoolteachers whose use of more motivational language could impact the learning and well-being of students in their classrooms, Weinstein noted.

“Adolescents likely feel more cared about and happier, and as a result they try harder at school, when parents and teachers speak in supportive rather than pressuring tones of voice,” she said.

For the study’s experiment, 486 male teens and 514 female were randomly assigned to groups that would hear identical messages delivered by mothers in either a controlling, autonomy-supportive, or neutral tone of voice.

Expressions of control impose pressure and attempt to coerce or push listeners to action. In contrast, those that express autonomy support convey a sense of encouragement and support for listeners’ sense of choice and opportunity for self-expression, the researchers explain.

Each of the mothers delivered 30 sentences that centered around school work, and included instructions such as: “It’s time now to go to school,” “you will read this book tonight,” and “you will do well on this assignment.”

After hearing the messages, each student took a survey and answered questions about how they would feel if their own mother had spoken to them in that particular way.

The findings showed that the tone of voice used by mothers can significantly impact teenagers’ emotional, relational, and behavioral intention responses, the researchers discovered.

Across most outcomes, teens who listened to mothers making motivational statements in a controlling tone of voice responded in undesirable ways. In contrast, autonomy-supportive tones elicited positive reactions from listeners, compared to listening to mothers who used a neutral tone of voice to deliver their motivational sentences.

“These results nicely illustrate how powerful our voice is and that choosing the right tone to communicate is crucial in all of our conversations,” said Professor Silke Paulmann of the University of Essex, co-author of the study.

The researchers say they intend to take their work a step further by investigating how tone of voice can impact physiological responses, such as heart rates or skin conductance responses, and how long-lasting these effects may be.

The study was published in the journal Developmental Psychology.

Source: Cardiff University

Teens Less Likely to Cooperate When Moms Speak in a Controlling Voice

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2019). Teens Less Likely to Cooperate When Moms Speak in a Controlling Voice. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 3 Oct 2019 (Originally: 3 Oct 2019)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 3 Oct 2019
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