BU research says 'Psycho-inspired' TV show offers food for thought

POSTED: Wednesday, April 17, 2013 - 4:06pm
UPDATED: Wednesday, April 17, 2013 - 4:20pm

With a new TV series turning the spotlight on one of Hollywood’s most famous mom-son relationships, that of Psycho’s Norman Bates and his late mother, a Baylor University researcher suggests it may be time to take a closer look at what makes for closeness (or not) between a man and his mother.

The simple trait of “being there," and not in the macabre maternal way that Norman’s mom was tucked away at the creepy Bates mansion, was mentioned most frequently by young men as critical in how they related to their mothers, according to a study by Mark Morman, Ph.D., a professor of communication studies in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences.

That meant everything from talking about romance to choosing a college major to discussing faith to getting support during a struggle with weight loss, said Morman, whose studies on parent-child and sibling relationships have been published in several journals.

A&E’s Bates Motel, a “contemporary prequel” which debuted last month and was inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s classic Psycho, explores in a present-day setting the connection Bates might have had with his mother during his youth – a crucial time for mother-son bonding. But while movies and television shows often touch on mother-son closeness and conflicts, real-life research on that particular parent-child relationship is sparse, Morman said.

“That’s unfortunate, as there are a variety of reasons to believe that mothers specifically influence their sons in a host of significant ways” — including on such issues as antisocial behavior, use of alcohol and suicidal thoughts, Morman said.
While father-daughter closeness tends to revolve around shared activities — sports in particular — conversation is more important for bonding between moms and sons. The most prominent forms involved advice about relationships, according to the mother-son study, published in the Journal of Family Communication in 2012.

The category of “social support” or “being there” drew the most varied responses among men, with mothers also most frequently citing such support as crucial to their closeness with sons.

Study participants were 139 sons and 68 unrelated mothers, with the sons being at least age 18. Mothers were asked to write about a memorable time they shared with their sons, while sons were asked to relate one about their mothers.
For the most part, mothers and sons in the study were in “remarkable agreement” about incidents they saw as critical — social support, family crisis, divorce, son maturing and son leaving for college or becoming physically distant for another reason, Morman said.



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