Autonomy as the Result of Relations: Role of Attachment to Mother and Peers in Volunteering Motivation in Adolescents

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Abstract

The relevance of the study is defined by the role of volunteering as social practice in developing adolescents’ autonomy. Volunteering attitudes in adolescents are considered a meaningful indicator of personal autonomy development. The purpose of the study is to identify the features of volunteering motivation in adolescents as a manifestation of personal autonomy. The research tasks included the following: studying the volunteering motivation of adolescents with and without experience in volunteering; identifying the relationship between the volunteering motivation of adolescents and the type of attachment to mother; revealing the connection between the volunteering motivation and the features of adolescents’ relationships with their peers. The following techniques were used: volunteering motivation questionnaire; mother and peer attachment type questionnaires. The sample consisted of 329 subjects aged 14 to 18 years. The study revealed the relationship between the mother attachment type and the attitude to volunteering in adolescents. Positive relationships with peers, including satisfaction with communication, trust and secure attachment, are associated with high willingness of adolescents to participate in volunteer activities as an indicator of personal autonomy.

General Information

Keywords: volunteering, autonomy, attachment, adolescents

Journal rubric: Clinical and Special Psychology

Article type: scientific article

DOI: https://doi.org/10.17759/pse.2022270307

Funding. The reported study was funded by the Russian Foundation for Basic Research (RFBR), project number 20-013-00439.

Received: 28.02.2022

Accepted:

For citation: Molchanov S.V., Almazova O.V., Poskrebysheva N.N. Autonomy as the Result of Relations: Role of Attachment to Mother and Peers in Volunteering Motivation in Adolescents. Psikhologicheskaya nauka i obrazovanie = Psychological Science and Education, 2022. Vol. 27, no. 3, pp. 89–103. DOI: 10.17759/pse.2022270307.

Full text

Introduction

The development of independence and personal autonomy, emancipation and the ability to act according to one’s own goals and decisions is a key foundation in adolescents’ personal development. It is known that personal autonomy development does not only characterise one’s maturity but is also the result of one’s relationship with parents and peers [3; 4; 8]. Personal autonomy development is based on the system of meaningful relationships in adolescence—with parents and peers.

Several studies have shown that the development of personal autonomy is connected to the attachment type formed in the relationship between adolescent and their mother. The mechanism that allows secure attachment to form an adolescent’s autonomy and independence is connected to the possibility of keeping the feeling of closeness in child–parent relationships, even in times of estrangement and disagreements [1,12]. The security of attachment in adolescents is linked to a high level of trust and partnership in relationships with parents, which allows autonomy to form. Insecure attachment may stand in the way of adolescents’ development of autonomy [13]. Secure attachment determines favourable trajectories for the development of personal autonomy of adolescents even with possible genetic risks—secure attachment mitigates the negative manifestations of separation processes and contributes to an increase in the regulatory aspect of autonomy [31].

Adolescents with a secure attachment style and a high level of autonomy describe their relationship with parents as comfortable, being aware of both positive and negative aspects. Adolescents with an insecure attachment style tend to feel overly intense negative emotions (anger, resentment) towards their parents, making objective evaluation of relationships difficult [24; 27; 29]. With secure attachment, adolescents see autonomy not as absolute independence from their parents, instead, they act while understanding their opportunities and limits and they do not avoid asking for help or relying on others when needed [13]. Parents are still a big part of the lives for adolescents with a secure attachment style. Parents help adolescents to adapt to many life changes and remain supportive even throughout periods of separation. Separation is not viewed as alienation and detachment of parents [30]. Insecure attachment style in adolescence stands as a risk factor, while secure attachment may serve as a means of protection from unfavourable teenage development trajectories.

In teenage development, secure attachment is a condition for self-actualisation and the formation of an adolescent’s consistent self-concept, positive self-treatment and a differentiated self-image. Adolescents with ambivalent-anxious attachment style tend to view themselves negatively and not show self-acceptance. With this said, attachment to a mother figure may be seen as a condition and as a mechanism of self-concept formation in adolescents, with mother–child relationships transforming into a relationship with self.

Adolescents with a secure attachment style turn out not only to have better personal development but to show a higher level of social skills and social adaptation as well [5]. They are also more socially competent, are better at choosing coping strategies and are less likely to turn to unjustified risks. They do not avoid conflict but do not get too carried away with their ‘fight for independence’ [25]. Teenagers with insecure attachment styles are less successful in their social development: they are more prone to have addictions [23], they show deviant forms of behaviour more often [18].

In social behaviour, not only does the attachment to the mother matter but so does the attachment to peers. Study shows both types of relationships influence adolescents’ social development [22].

The security of attachment style determines the manner of a teenager’s personal autonomy development; therefore, we can assume that adolescents with a secure attachment style, without feeling any anxiety regarding their acceptance by their social surroundings (parents, peers) appear to be more ready to participate in volunteering activities, which is not a means of educational activity but an independent act of ‘self-movement’ and self-development.

Volunteering activity may be viewed as a social activity with volunteers’ initiative, who possess a set of personal features which lead to the change of objective reality and self-development [9]. Several studies show that volunteers view themselves positively and have higher levels of empathy and emotional stability [6; 14; 15; 28].

Motivation for volunteering may be directly connected to personal autonomy development in adolescents and young adults. Autonomy in motivation to participate in volunteer work is positively linked to teenagers’ prosocial behaviour, while external motivation factors of volunteering did not lead to positive changes in adolescents’ behaviour [20].

Even though volunteering has recently become an increasingly expanding sphere of life for teenagers and young adults, there are few studies on teenagers’ volunteering activity and their motivation for volunteer projects. In a review done in E. Korneeva’s work, the given data shows that volunteers have different motivations for participation and have certain personal characteristics, as well as that the types of volunteer activities themselves differ significantly [7]. We think that motivation to participate and personal characteristics of volunteering participants in sports or cultural events will differ from the motivation and psychological features of orphanage, animal shelter and retirement home volunteers. But in the same volunteering project, there will be individual differences in the volunteers’ motivations.

The desire to participate in volunteer activities may be based on both altruistic motives and motives for social contacts and even pragmatic goals, for example, to supplement a resume with participation in socially significant projects [10; 11]. Researchers most often suggest the following typology of volunteer activity trajectories: the ‘trigger’ path (when a certain event in a person’s life encourages them to do volunteering), the social path, the ‘instrumental’ path (when volunteering becomes a trajectory for the acquisition of specific skills) and the religious or spiritual path.

In this study, we rely on the operationalisation of the concept of volunteering motivation based on the functional theory of motivation [17] as the most developed and systematic model of volunteer motivation. According to the functional theory of motivation, the following motive functions of volunteering are distinguished: value function, social function, volunteering as a source of competencies, volunteering as a resource of career opportunities, protective (compensatory) function and volunteering as a source of personal development [16]. Helping and supporting others as a priority in the individual hierarchy of values of an individual is reflected in the value function of volunteering. This type of motivation is traditionally connected with altruistic motives, but volunteering and helping others as a value may reflect not only purely altruistic aspirations but basic worldview attitudes or religious ideas as well. The value function motivation allows volunteers to act based on a wide range of humanistic values, including the value of helping others. Volunteers asserting the value of helping people in difficult life situations consider this activity an important component of their lives. The opportunity to acquire new knowledge, skills and abilities in volunteer projects is most pronounced in the motivation of those who consider volunteering as a source of competencies. Volunteers with such motivation most often participate in voluntary social, sports and educational projects [16]. This allows one to get new experiences, learn new things, learn strengths and gain a new perspective on things.

Meta-studies indicate that this is one of the main types of volunteer motivation, along with altruistic motives. Motivation associated with the expansion of career opportunities determines an instrumental attitude towards volunteering as a means of achieving career goals [17]. For some, volunteering becomes a desirable line in the resume, an opportunity to acquire the necessary professional connections and to join a professional community. Career-oriented volunteers believe that the experience of participating in volunteer projects will help them get the desired job and achieve success in their chosen profession. The motivation associated with building a career is most often present in young volunteers [21]. The social motives of volunteer activity relate to the desire of volunteers to be part of a social group and to maintain stable social ties. Volunteers with dominant social motives participate in volunteer projects ‘for a company’ with friends or simply follow the example of a significant social environment, thereby seeking to confirm their commitment to group norms and traditions. Satisfaction of social motives in volunteering leads to the formation of new social ties and the maintenance and consolidation of the old ones. Quite often, it is social motives that prevail at the initial stage of volunteering. For novice volunteers with less than six months of volunteering experience, the desire for communication is often a priority motive [9]. In cases where volunteering makes it easier to perceive one’s problems and reduces the sense of guilt for their well-being and privileges, we can talk about the protective function of volunteering. Volunteering becomes a sort of compensation for one’s difficulties, failures or means of overcoming the sense of guilt for the inability to ensure one’s well-being. The development of protective forms of motivation for volunteering is considered an emotional reward for performing socially useful activities [11]. By helping others, volunteers often solve their problems and difficult life situations, as well as reduce the overall stress level through socially useful activities [26].

The motivation for volunteering may lie in the perception of volunteer activity as a source of one’s development. Self-development motivation allows them to feel important and necessary in volunteer activity, increase their self-esteem. The motivation of this kind is associated with the need to assert one’s self-worth and the desire for self-development.

A study of various social groups of volunteers shows that constant and frequent participation in volunteer activities, as well as in various forms of digital volunteering, is most often associated with value and learning motivation.

The nature of the motivation of volunteering, revealing the functional significance, attitude and personal meaning of the participation of adolescents in volunteer activity, is a meaningful indicator of the development of personal autonomy. We can assume that the peculiarities of the attitude to volunteering as an indicator of personal autonomy are related to the nature of the relationship of adolescents with a close adult (mother) and peers.

A few studies of the peculiarities of volunteering in connection with attachment show that secure attachment in volunteers is associated with greater activity in volunteer projects, as well as with reliance on internal motivation. With insecure attachment, volunteers act based on altruistic motives to a lesser extent. Anxiety-ambivalent attachment is more often associated with motives of protection and self-development, anxiety-avoiding attachment leads to a decrease in volunteer activity [19]. At the same time, the study of the relationship between adolescents’ attitudes to volunteering and the nature of relationships with peers, considering the key importance of communication with peers at this age for personality development, will clarify the role of attachment to peers in a teenager’s willingness to participate in the volunteer movement.

Research Programme, Sampling Description and Applied Techniques

The study aimed to establish the nature of the relationship between the characteristics of motivation of volunteer activity of adolescents as a manifestation of personal autonomy. The following hypotheses have been put forward: 1. The value and social motivation of volunteer activity are more significant for adolescents with secure attachment to their mother, compared with adolescents with insecure attachment type. 2. Value, social motivation and motivation of acquiring volunteer competencies are more significant for adolescents with positive relationships with peers, characterised by a high level of trust and satisfaction with communication and secure attachment to peers.

Tasks included:

- to establish the characteristics of the motivation of volunteering among adolescents with and without volunteering experience;

- to determine the peculiarity of the connection between the volunteering motivation in adolescents with the type of attachment to the mother;

- to identify the connection between volunteering motivation in adolescents with the peculiarities of relationships with peers.

That is, 329 adolescents 14–18 years old, 57.4% male and 2.6% female took part in this research. Among them, 43.8% of adolescents have volunteering experience and 56.2% do not have one.

In accordance with the tasks set, the following techniques have been used:

1. Questionnaire of motivation of volunteer activity based on the functional theory of motivation proposed by a group of American psychologists led by E. Clary [17].

2. Methodology for attachment assessment by M. Yaremchuk modified by O. Almazova, G. Burmenskaya [2].

3. ‘Attachment to parents and peers’ questionnaire (peer section) [16].

Results

According to all scales of all questionnaires, the distribution is normal (Kolmogorov–Smirnov criterion), which allows the use of parametric methods of data analysis.

Two factors were considered—the real volunteering experience and the type of attachment to the mother in connection with the attitude to volunteering, which involves the use of a two-factor analysis of variance to assess the effect of each of the factors and their interaction with different aspects of the motivation of volunteering.

Table 1 shows the averages, medians and standard deviations of attitudes to volunteering among respondents with and without experience in volunteering and the result of comparing estimates in these two groups (ANOVA single-factor analysis of variance, for all scales for Levene Statistics p > 0.05, which, combined the results of checking the normality of distributions allows the usage of ANOVA).

Table 1

Descriptive statistics for assessment of the attitudes towards volunteering in adolescents with and without real volunteer experience; differences between them

Scale/

Group

Has experience

No experience

Difference

M

Me

SD

M

Me

SD

F

p

Security

4.20

4.00

1.409

3.47

3.40

1.354

11.961

0.001

Value

6.08

6.20

0.840

5.33

5.60

1.211

18.625

<0.001

Career possibility

4.16

4.30

1.574

3.82

3.80

1.414

3.252

0.072

Social function

4.96

5.00

1.317

3.94

4.00

1.480

27.350

<0.001

Source of competence

5.88

6.00

0.978

5.13

5.20

1.242

22.281

<0.001

Source of development

4.81

4.80

1.355

4.28

4.40

1.330

6.429

0.012

 

Significant differences were obtained on all scales of the questionnaire. At the same time, they are higher in adolescents with experience in volunteering for grades on all scales. Participation in volunteering turns out to be associated with a greater understanding of the personal meaning of volunteering for all areas of motivation.

According to the results of the modified methodology of M. Yaremchuk, 59% of adolescents had a secure and 41% had an insecure type of attachment to their mother, which corresponds to various data on the distribution of secure and insecure types of attachment in adolescence.

Table 2 presents the averages, medians and standard deviations of the estimates of the attitude to volunteering among respondents with secure and insecure types of attachment to the mother and the result of comparing the estimates in these two groups (ANOVA one-factor analysis of variance, for all scales for Levene Statistics p > 0.05, which combined with the results of checking the normality of distributions allows the usage of ANOVA).

Table 2

Descriptive statistics for assessment of the attitude to volunteering in adolescents with a secure and insecure type of attachment to their mother; differences between them

 

Scale/

Group

Secure attachment

Insecure attachment

Difference

M

Me

SD

M

Me

SD

F

p

Security

3.86

3.80

1.408

3.60

3.40

1.451

2.301

0.130

Value

5.74

5.80

1.110

5.45

5.50

1.173

4.387

0.037

Career possibility

3.93

4.00

1.519

4.08

4.20

1.427

0.661

0.417

Social function

4.52

4.60

1.482

4.05

4.00

1.495

6.542

0.011

Source of competence

5.51

5.80

1.168

5.31

5.50

1.254

1.804

0.180

Source of development

4.53

4.40

1.363

4.47

4.40

1.371

0.102

0.750

Using a two-factor analysis of variance, taking the attachment type and the presence/absence of experience in volunteering as factors, the effect of the interaction of these factors on various aspects of the motivation of volunteering was tested. Table 3 shows the results of the analysis.

Table 3

The influence of the interaction of factors: the experience of participation in volunteering and the type of attachment to the mother on the attitude to volunteering

 

Type III Sum of squares

df

Mean squares

F

p

Security

1.323

1

1.323

0.696

0.405

Value

0.079

1

0.079

0.070

0.792

Career possibility

0.163

1

0.163

0.074

0.786

Social function

0.371

1

0.371

0.187

0.666

Source of competence

5.835

1

5.835

4.579

0.033

Source of development

1.459

1

1.459

0.809

0.369

 

Only for one aspect, namely ‘volunteering as a source of competence’, the effect was significant. Figure 1 shows graphs of averages for all aspects of the relationship to volunteering for adolescents with different types of attachment to their mother and the presence/absence of volunteer experience and a diagram of the scope of assessments of ‘volunteering as a source of competence’ for adolescents of different groups.

Figure 1. Average assessments of attitudes to volunteering (all aspects) and a diagram of the scope of assessments of attitudes to ‘volunteering as a source of competence’ in adolescents with different types of attachment to their mother and experience of participation in volunteer activities

The assessment of ‘volunteering as a source of competence’ for adolescents with insecure types of attachment to their mother practically does not differ, with or without adolescents’ real volunteering experience. Whereas for adolescents with a secure type of attachment to the mother, the estimates of this aspect with the presence of real volunteering experience are much higher than in the absence of it.

With the help of the ‘Attachment to parents and peers’ questionnaire (scales revealing relationships with peers were presented to respondents and analysed) assessments of attachment, trust, satisfaction with communication and rejection in relationships with peers were determined. Using the Pearson correlation coefficient, we are going to check the connections between the assessments of various aspects of attitude towards volunteering and the assessments of the characteristics of peer relationships under consideration. Figure 2 shows a correlation pleiad, which shows all the significant relationships between the scores of the scales of the two questionnaires (p < 0.05, the strength of the connection is greater than 0.2).

Figure 2. Relationships of assessments of attitudes to volunteering and relationships with peers in adolescents (p < 0.05, r > 0.2)

The assessments of ‘volunteering as a value’ and ‘volunteering as a social function’ are related to the assessments of all the considered characteristics of relationships with peers (with attachment, trust and satisfaction with communication directly, with rejection—inversely). Assessments of ‘volunteering as a source of competence’ are associated with positive characteristics of relationships with peers (attachment, trust and satisfaction with communication). In addition, the correlation between the protective motivation of volunteering and ‘satisfaction with communication with peers’ indicates that in case of acceptance by peers and experiencing social support, a teenager is more inclined to turn to a volunteer activity, compensating for dissatisfaction with their achievements due to a high social assessment of this activity.

Table 4 shows the averages, medians and standard deviations of peer relationship assessments among respondents with and without experience in volunteer work and the result of comparing assessments in these two groups (Student's t-criterion).

Table 4

Descriptive statistics for assessing relationships with peers in adolescents with and without volunteer experience; differences between them

Scale/

Group

Has experience

No experience

Difference

M

Me

SD

M

Me

SD

t

p

Attachment

4.34

4.40

0.435

4.15

4.20

0.509

3.569

<0.001

Trust

4.62

4.70

0.430

4.49

4.60

0.519

2.405

0.017

Communication

4.42

4.60

0.544

4.19

4.30

0.619

3.589

<0.001

Alienation

2.13

2.00

0.597

2.34

2.30

0.635

-3.114

0.002

 

Significant differences were obtained on all scales of the questionnaire. At the same time, adolescents with experience in volunteering describe their relationships with peers as significantly more trusting, with a greater degree of attachment and satisfaction with communication and less rejecting than adolescents without such experience.

General Results

The research results show evidence in favour of the proposed hypothesis on the manner of connection between adolescents and close adults (mother figures) relationships and motivation for volunteering and readiness to do volunteer work. It was confirmed that a secure attachment style is associated with greater involvement in volunteer activities and expressed altruistic motives for affirming the value of helping other people. 

The novelty of the study is represented in its reveal of the connection between secure attachment style and the social motivation for participation in volunteer activities. At the base of this connection lies the transfer of the feeling of a mother’s support to the social surroundings and an adolescent’s striving to be included in different social groups. To confirm this, it has been revealed that teenagers with secure attachment style are engaged in volunteering activities more, compared to adolescents with insecure attachment types. Compared to teenagers with no volunteering experience, adolescents with a secure attachment style and volunteering experience have a more pronounced aspiration to participate in volunteering activities. This difference allows determining the adolescents’ overall views on volunteering activities based on real experience—from value and social motivation to the enrichment of personal resource potential.

The hypothesis of the high importance of the relationship with peers and motivation for volunteering as an indicator of personal autonomy has been confirmed.

The satisfaction with peer communication is connected more to the manifestation of social, source of competence and value functions of volunteer activity and less to the compensatory-protective function. Higher levels of attachment and trust are expressed in the importance of value and social functions along with the competence acquisition function. Rejection by peers leads to adolescents’ denial of volunteer functions and therefore, to lower motivation indicators. No significant connection between the manner of teenagers’ relationship with social surroundings and motivation for career success and self-development was revealed. This calls for additional research considering the peculiarities of adolescents’ self-determination in a modern social climate with its prolongation of a moratorium on self-determination.

The results obtained in this research allow to formulate the following conclusions:

  1. The connection between attachment style and the adolescent’s views on volunteering has been revealed. A positive attitude towards volunteering activities and participation in volunteer work based on value and social motivation is more typical among adolescents with a secure attachment style, compared with teenagers with insecure attachment. Real volunteering experience leads to an increase in the importance of mastering new competencies in a group of teenagers with a secure attachment style.
  2. Positive relationships with peers, including satisfaction with communication, trust and secure attachment are connected to the pronounced readiness of teenagers to take part in volunteer work as an indicator of personal autonomy. Social, value motives, along with knowledge acquisition, combined with volunteering skills are linked to positive relationships with peers. Peer rejection leads to lower indicators of social and value motives expression.
  3. Tendency to prioritise peer interpersonal relationships and inclusion into social groups prevail in the development of readiness and motivation of adolescents to volunteer, creating personal autonomy development conditions.

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Information About the Authors

Sergey V. Molchanov, PhD in Psychology, Associate Professor, Department of Developmental Psychology, Faculty of Psychology, Lomonosov Moscow State University, Moscow, Russia, ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5147-3551, e-mail: s-molch2001@mail.ru

Olga V. Almazova, PhD in Psychology, Associate Professor, Developmental Psychology Department, Lomonosov Moscow State University, Moscow, Russia, ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-8852-4076, e-mail: almaz.arg@gmail.com

Nataliya N. Poskrebysheva, PhD in Psychology, associate professor, Department of Developmental Psychology, Faculty of Psychology, Lomonosov Moscow State University, Moscow, Russia, ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-9124-530X, e-mail: pskr@inbox.ru

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