Professor Kelly Marin Provides Insight into Parent and Child Relations at Dante Seminar

Professors gather around to discuss Dr. Marin's research. Photo by Cara Ledwidge.
Professors gather around to discuss Dr. Marin’s research. Photo by Cara Ledwidge.


Professors of the Arts Department met once again at the Dante Seminar led by psychology professor, Dr. Kelly Marin, concerning parental memory sharing.

On March 13, after a few hor d’oeuvres and glasses of wine, professors sat down at around 4:45 p.m. to listen to Marin discuss a study she has been a part of over the past six months.

Dr. Rocco Marinaccio began the seminar by thanking the seminar’s founder, saying, “Let us now toast our dear founder. No, not Dante, but rather, Mark Taylor, who founded this seminar, whose birthday it is today.” Taylor was the head of the English department from 1978 to 1982. Taylor received the “Bonus et Fidelis Medal” award in 1994 for outstanding service to the college, and passed away in April 2009.

Marin set the stage by explaining she has been working with a colleague of hers at the University of Toronto.

“Most of my work in on autobiographic memory sharing, and a lot of my work overlaps with my colleague’s,” Marin said. “It is definitely a work in progress.”

Marin explained that she works with “stories parents tell about themselves to their children.” These stories tell so much about what message the parents are trying to send, and the study involved whether or not children understand the messages their parents are attempting to express.

One of the greatest findings of the study is that mothers “tell the stories with the strongest social themes and are very relationship oriented.”

Marin expresses that she “expected strong gendered themes” but she surprisingly did not find any.

The study involved 58 emerging adults, ages 17 to 28. The majority of the people surveyed were female. 45 percent of people surveyed were Asian, and 39 percent were Caucasian.

In addition to the 58 emerging adults, 39 parents were surveyed ages 42 to 62 and the majority of them were mothers. There were only 9 fathers in this part of the study, which Marin admitted slightly skews the study.

16 percent of the people surveyed were emigrants to Canada, and later many professors wondered if this fact affected the study.

The people involved in the study were asked to share stories that their parents had told them, and why they think that their parents told them those stories. These participants wrote these answers down, and then the conductors of the study went through and coded the responses.

There were many coding schemes used in the study in regards to the results. There were many themes the conductors, called master coders, took into account, including misbehavior and risk taking, personal injury, hardships, achievement, inner personal conflict and unique experience.

There were many functions that these stories could include as well, including intimacy, teach and inform, conversational, emotion regulation and self-explanation.

These themes and functions were used to categorize the results that Marin described as “suggesting interesting patterns.”

Many of the mothers’ stories suggested a tendency to be about wanting intimacy with their child, but very few of the father’s stories were categorized as having a focus in functioning as an intimate story.

Marin then shared some of the stories given in the study. One involved a mother who recalls a dream to her child about twins that she had born before the birth of this child. The two children died, but then the mother had a dream that her father was holding the two children, and he dropped one to her. The mother believed this to mean that one of those twins was getting a second chance and was born as the child she told the story to. This story was filed under the unique experience category with a function of garnering intimacy between her and that child.

Stories like these gathered the interest of Marin and her colleague, but Marin emphasized that the all the findings from the story are not yet finalized. This conclusion began the discussion that is another notable part of the Dante Seminar. Professors asked Marin to clarify some of her findings, and also gave her suggestions of other aspects of the study she may not have noticed.

Some professors shared memories of their own while other professors highlighted issues like gender and the impact of ethnicity on the study.

“Watching professors’ open dialogues about an ongoing study was like auditing a really interesting class discussion…but with my mentors as students. A really great twist,” Katy Tkach, a student who attended the seminar, said.

Marin concluded that she feels she can confidently say “parents have a reason that they tell these stories, and I believe that emerging adults are getting that.”