Papa Don’t Preach: Josh Duggar and the Psychological Consequences of Christian Patriarchy (Part 3)


Image from

Last night’s Kelly File interview with the Duggars confirmed many of the details about the Duggar scandal. Namely, Josh Duggar informed his parents of his behavior after he had victimized two of his sisters, and the Duggars did not remove him from their home until there were two additional incidents, involving three more girls. The interview was very Josh-focused, and when Kelly asked how Jim Bob felt about his daughters being molested, specifically as the father of those girls, again he brought it back to Josh immediately, saying, “I was so thankful though…that Josh came and told us.” That brings me to some of the most difficult issues associated with Christian Patriarchy: Sexism and Privilege. (You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here).

5) Sexism- It is impossible to discuss these extreme religious movements without noting the marginalization of women. From constant pregnancy to assertions that men are more moral than women, many of the practices of the Christian Patriarchy movement are meant to keep women “in their place.” It’s also clear that women have little say in what happens to them in these male-dominated environments. The Duggars allowed Josh to live in the same home as several of his victims and rather than offering him psychological counseling, they sent him to Little Rock to remodel someone’s house. Living in a culture of sexism can be incredibly damaging to the psyche of young women, causing them to have lower levels of achievement, which is related to a lot of negative consequences, including poor mental and physical health.1,2

Benevolent sexism is one culprit for the position of women in Christian Patriarchy. Benevolent sexism is the belief that women need to be offered protection from men, and women often come to endorse this chivalrous ideology as well.3 This type of sexism endorses gender inequality and traditional gender roles.3 Hostile sexism on the other hand, refers to overtly antagonistic feelings about women, including views that women try to influence men with their sexuality.3 Both amounts of benevolent and hostile sexism predict women’s position in society across cultures.4 Since Christian Patriarchy affirms that women can “defraud” men with revealing clothing, and asserts that men must take care of women, combining both hostile and benevolent sexism, it results in something called ambivalent sexism.3 There’s also evidence that benevolent sexism increases system justification, or endorsement of the status quo, regardless of fairness.5 The type of socialization in Christian Patriarchy that focuses on very specific sex-roles for their children is known to contribute to issues related to sexism.6 In fact, there is evidence that men who are sexist are more likely to stereotype women, essentially seeing women in traditional roles as Madonnas and women in non-traditional roles as whores.7

In addition, the evidence is overwhelming that men are not more virtuous than women. The FBI estimated that over 12.4 million arrests were made in the US in 2011, and that 74.1% of those arrested were men. According to the DOJ, 95% of those arrested for sexual offenses are male. In fact, sometimes men make worse choices than women and act less responsibly. For instance, men are far more likely to die in fatal car crashes than women, with men accounting for about 70% of motor vehicle-related deaths. None of this is to say that women are better decision makers than men, but I think we can all agree that men and women both bring something to the head of the table.

6) Privilege- The Christian Patriarchy movement is predictably full of male privilege. Codifying a system where men reign supreme allows men to justify their superior position. While men often acknowledge that women are at a disadvantage, they are far less likely to admit that they are benefiting from male privilege.8 Part of the issue surrounding privilege is that people who are privileged are meant to remain unaware of the nature of that privilege, and how it affects others.8 Educating people about privilege has been shown to improve attitudes and decrease prejudice toward women.9 Which is good, since male privilege can be so powerful that it often introduces itself as an issue in family therapy.10 Since it is such an issue in families that don’t practice Christian Patriarchy, it’s obvious that these issues may be even more magnified when this privilege is purposely afforded to men.

Male privilege is bad for women, plain and simple. Some researchers assert that male privilege is the reason that crimes that affect mainly women, like stalking or sexual harassment, are still under acknowledged in society.11 Male privilege also often leads to favorable legal outcomes for men in domestic violence situations, downplaying violence against women while people go to jail for far lesser crimes.12 This legal advantage only serves to solidify and extend male privilege. We even see female athletes often delegated to second-class, as professional sports have traditionally been dominated by men.13 There are many ways in which being male affords one advantages that females don’t have.

However, people can be privileged in some ways and disadvantaged in others. For instance, many people fail to acknowledge their white privilege because they also have an unprivileged status, due to gender, sexual orientation, wealth or status. For instance, I may not have male privilege, but I still enjoy white privilege, something that minority women cannot claim. Similarly, black men enjoy some aspects of male privilege, but they are disadvantaged by white privilege.

Privilege is incredibly complex, but it is important to acknowledge how privilege puts us in certain positions or grants us certain advantages. Specifically, in the Duggar’s case, male privilege allowed Josh Duggar to feel that he could violate young girl’s bodies and allowed Jim Bob Duggar to believe that instituting his own “safeguards” would end the behavior, and white privilege allowed the Duggars to avoid any legal consequences of these actions. Even now, the Duggars have not been charged with obstructing justice or visited by Child and Protective Services, and Josh Duggar has never been charged with any sex crimes. The fact that Josh Duggar has used his position to marginalize others, especially the gay community, shows that he is largely unaware of how his privilege has helped him to avoid legal consequences, and has helped him retain some support in the court of public opinion. It is hard to imagine the same legal and public response to the same transgressions in a minority family.

We have explored various psychological findings that may have been behind Josh Duggar’s actions. The constant refrain of “it’s more common than you think” and “the girls didn’t even know” from the Duggar camp goes to show how marginalized women are in Christian Patriarchy. Going forward, it would help to focus less on Josh Duggar’s specific actions, and more on the culture that molded him into someone who felt that he could violate women’s bodies, as long as he told his dad after.

NOTE: Jen wrote a great article on privilege and the Fundamental Attribution Error last year that you can read here. Also, Peggy McIntosh wrote a very famous piece about unpacking the backpack of privilege that everyone should read, especially those who are confused about ways in which they are privileged.

  1. Sadker, M., & Sadker, D. (1986). Sexism in the classroom: From grade school to graduate school. Phi Delta Kappan, 512-515.
  1. Willis, S., & Kenway, J. (1986). On overcoming sexism in schooling: To marginalize or mainstream. Australian Journal of Education, 30(2), 132-149.
  1. Glick, P., & Fiske, S. T. (2001). An ambivalent alliance: Hostile and benevolent sexism as complementary justifications for gender inequality. American Psychologist, 56(2), 109.
  1. Glick, P., Fiske, S. T., Mladinic, A., Saiz, J. L., Abrams, D., Masser, B., … & López, W. L. (2000). Beyond prejudice as simple antipathy: hostile and benevolent sexism across cultures. Journal of personality and social psychology, 79(5), 763.
  1. Jost, J. T., & Kay, A. C. (2005). Exposure to benevolent sexism and complementary gender stereotypes: consequences for specific and diffuse forms of system justification. Journal of personality and social psychology, 88(3), 498.
  1. O’Neil, J. M. (1981). Male sex role conflicts, sexism, and masculinity: Psychological implications for men, women, and the counseling psychologist. The Counseling Psychologist.
  1. Glick, P., Diebold, J., Bailey-Werner, B., & Zhu, L. (1997). The two faces of Adam: Ambivalent sexism and polarized attitudes toward women. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 23(12), 1323-1334.
  1. McIntosh, P. (2003). White privilege and male privilege. Privilege: A reader, 147-160.
  1. Case, K. A. (2007). Raising male privilege awareness and reducing sexism: An evaluation of diversity courses. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 31(4), 426-435.
  1. Vecchio, D. D. (1998). Dismantaling White male privilege within family therapy.
  1. Wildman, S. M. (2000). Ending Male Privilege: Beyond the Reasonable Woman.
  1. Johnson, J. R. (2002). Privileged Justice Under Law: Reinforcement of Male Privilege by the Federal Judiciary Through the Lens of the Violence Against Women Act and US v. Morrison. Santa Clara L. Rev., 43, 1399.
  1. Messner, M. A. (1988). Sports and male domination: The female athlete as contested ideological terrain. Sociology of sport journal, 5(3), 197-211.

Papa Don’t Preach: Josh Duggar and the Psychological Consequences of Christian Patriarchy (Part 2)


Image from Twitter

Over a week ago, allegations were confirmed that Josh Duggar sexually assaulted 5 underage women while still a minor himself. While his personal actions are deplorable and inexcusable, his upbringing as a member of the Quiverfull and Christian Patriarchy movements likely had an impact on his behavior. At SocialPsyQ we’re exploring the possible psychological forces that may have helped to motivate these crimes and others like them. If you missed part 1, you can read it here.

In part 2 of our analysis of the Duggar scandal, we’ll discuss Groupthink and Confirmation Bias.

3) Groupthink- Groupthink can help to explain many a disaster, from the decision to launch the Challenger to the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion. Groupthink is a phenomenon whereby people in a group are motivated to maintain group harmony by isolating themselves from outside influences and ignoring unpopular opinions.1 The problem is that this often leads to bad decisions, since the decision-makers don’t have all of the information and have not considered all of the alternatives. There are several types of situations that can make groups vulnerable to groupthink. For instance, there’s collective avoidance, where all members of a group act defensively to prevent failure, and there’s collective overoptimism, which is marked by overconfidence in achieving success.2 Either or both of these types of situations could be at play in Christian Patriarchy, as the group acts to avoid failing to instill an appreciation of their religious beliefs in their children, and they are convinced that their brand of Christianity will lead to successfully accomplishing this.

Groupthink is definitely at work in extreme religious movements or cults where a group of people comes to advocate certain practices or beliefs, regardless of their actual merit or social acceptability. For instance, beliefs in the Christian Patriarchy movement that women belong in the home and need a male authority to remain pure are fairly outmoded, but being surrounded by a large group of people with these same beliefs normalizes them, and discourages dissenters from speaking up. Researchers have found that contrary to popular opinion, we aren’t most strongly influenced by close others like friends, but by people who we identify with as part of the same social group.3 So, for the Duggars, these influencers are likely fellow members of their church, and the leaders of the Quiverfull and Christian Patriarchy movements.

The major antecedents of groupthink are: 1) The existence of a cohesive group, 2) The expression of a preference from a respected leader, and 3) Insulation from useful outside opinions that should be considered.4 There are also several symptoms of groupthink. Some important ones that may have played a role here are: Morality-Where groups come to believe that their opinion is the morally superior one, Stereotyped Views of Others-Where group members have simplified views of people with opposing positions, Pressure on Dissent-Where group members pressure people who question the majority opinion, Self-Censorship-Where people who disagree with the majority feel they cannot speak up, Illusion of Unanimity-Where people assume that those group members who don’t speak up agree with the majority position, and Mindguarding-Where specific group members act to shield the group from outside information that is contrary to group beliefs.4 It is easy to tell that almost all of the symptoms of groupthink are at play in these extreme religious movements. These symptoms may help to explain why women also adhere to Christian Patriarchy, even though it seems obvious that it is not in their best interests. Sadly, Groupthink discourages people from speaking up, and may have played a role in the cover-up of Duggar’s abuse, as well.

4) Confirmation bias-We’ve discussed this on SocialPsyQ before, but confirmation bias seems to underlie many of the actions of these extremely religious people. Confirmation bias occurs when someone specifically seeks evidence or interprets information in such a way that it confirms their already existing beliefs.5 Confirmation bias can even operate in science, when researchers design their studies or interpret their data in such a way that it confirms their hypothesis.6 But, of course, laypeople do this as well with their own ideas about the world.

For instance, Fox News often presents news in a different way than other news outlets. If Fox News presents information that is more in line with your already existing beliefs, you are more likely to listen to that news station than one that calls your beliefs into question. People who are more committed to their ideas, or have just been reminded of their strong beliefs, are more likely to exhibit confirmation bias than individuals who are not.7 That’s not to say that only some people show confirmation bias, it just means that people may show this bias in different areas. Specifically, those areas in which their beliefs are the strongest. It’s no coincidence that the Duggars sought out some extremist religious homeschooling materials for their children that are in line with their own extremist beliefs, or that they only associate with other families that share their beliefs. It is simply an instance of confirmation bias.

It is clear that a religious group that is headed by influential male authorities could lead to the various symptoms of groupthink and encourage the Duggars to handle their son’s crimes in house, as well as to have put Josh Duggar in a position where he did not feel that he could communicate his deviant thoughts and feelings with his religious parents. In addition, confirmation bias helped to keep the Duggars in the dark. As they acted to keep their kids safe from the “evils” of the world with their brand of authoritarian parenting, they invited the devil right in the front door.

Come back on Thursday for the conclusion of the Duggar scandal series!

NOTE: I would be remiss to not mention that some research has called the Groupthink theory into question, and that scientific results from lab studies do not always replicate all of the antecedents and results proposed by Janis and colleagues. While the laboratory evidence does not always support all of the tenants of the theory, it is obvious that this process plays out in some form based on the many real-life examples that scientists invoke to discuss the theory, such as launching the Challenger in less than ideal conditions, despite warnings from the engineers about the temperature.8

  1. Janis, I. L. (1972). Victims of groupthink: a psychological study of foreign-policy decisions and fiascoes.
  1. Esser, J. K. (1998). Alive and well after 25 years: A review of groupthink research. Organizational behavior and human decision processes, 73(2), 116-141.
  1. Hogg, M. A., & Hains, S. C. (1998). Friendship and group identification: A new look at the role of cohesiveness in groupthink. European Journal of Social Psychology, 28(3), 323-341.
  1. Moorhead, G., Ference, R., & Neck, C. P. (1991). Group decision fiascoes continue: Space shuttle Challenger and a revised groupthink framework. Human Relations, 44(6), 539-550.
  1. Nickerson, R. S. (1998). Confirmation bias: A ubiquitous phenomenon in many guises. Review of general psychology, 2(2), 175.
  1. Oswald, M. E., & Grosjean, S. (2004). 4 Confirmation bias. Cognitive illusions: A handbook on fallacies and biases in thinking, judgement and memory, 79.
  1. Munro, G. D., & Stansbury, J. A. (2009). The dark side of self-affirmation: Confirmation bias and illusory correlation in response to threatening information. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
  1. Turner, M. E., & Pratkanis, A. R. (1998). Twenty-five years of groupthink theory and research: Lessons from the evaluation of a theory. Organizational behavior and human decision processes, 73(2), 105-115.

Papa Don’t Preach: Josh Duggar and the Psychological Consequences of Christian Patriarchy (Part 1)

Image from the Duggar Family

On May 19, 2015, InTouch Weekly magazine published an article alleging sexual abuse within the Duggar family, the stars of the TLC show 19 Kids and Counting. The accusations detailed unwanted and unsolicited sexual touching between their eldest son Josh and 5 young girls, including 4 of his younger sisters, while he was still a minor. Duggar has confirmed the accusations, and he, his wife and his parents have all issued statements about the abuse. While the commentary from the Duggar camp seems to revolve around repentance and redemption, the police report, taken 3 years after the incidents, reveals that the Duggars likely acted to protect their son from the legal consequences of his actions.

The Duggars are considered some of the most influential members of the Quiverfull and Christian Patriarchy movements, and are well known among conservative circles. The Quiverfull movement encourages parents to put their family planning “in God’s hands,” while the Christian Patriarchy movement asserts that men are the moral and spiritual heads of the household. While these beliefs have long sparked questions about the judgment of the members of these movements, these recent revelations have brought to light even more problematic issues, like the encouragement of victim blaming in handling sexual abuse included in a popular Christian homeschooling program from the Advanced Training Institute. While it may be difficult for many of us to understand what drives these extreme religious movements, there are definitely psychological forces at work here.

We’re going to unpack this scandal, SocialPsyQ style, in a series of 3 posts. In the first post, we will consider the role of obedience and authority.

1) Obedience- A cornerstone of Christian Patriarchy parenting is total obedience to parental demands. Many practices, including blanket training, are essentially just a repurposing of operant conditioning, where repeated consequences or rewards for a certain behavior lead to learned responses.1 In blanket training, the parent puts an infant or small child on a blanket, and tells it not to move. If the infant moves off of the blanket, they receive some form of corporal punishment and are put back on the blanket. This happens until the baby does not leave the blanket. While this may appear to be obedience, this is actually a conditioned fear response. The baby obeys the parent for fear of physical abuse, not because it has learned that obeying mom is better than not. There are no studies that suggest that this kind of will-bending is a good parenting practice.

Evidence from psychology research overwhelmingly endorses attachment parenting, a kind of parenting where the parent acts as a trusted, secure base from which the infant can explore the environment.2,3,4,5 One’s childhood attachment to parents can have long-reaching consequences, affecting the security of a child’s future relationships, their mental health and their ability to regulate their emotions.6,7,8 Practices like blanket training discourage curiosity and may lead to insecure attachments with caregivers. The research suggests that a warm and supportive environment is by far the best for a child’s development into an autonomous person, and that it is the best way to form positive relationships with caregivers. Total obedience is not for a child’s developmental benefit, it is for the adult who wants their child to obey.

2) Authority- In social psychology, Stanley Milgram famously showed that requests from authorities can cause people to do unthinkable things in the name of obedience, namely, to administer increasing levels of electric shock to someone who eventually appears to be in serious pain, or in need of medical attention.9,10 Over 60% of participants were willing to shock the other person up to the highest level of shock available at the behest of the experimenter, even when it was marked to show how dangerous it was and even after the other participant had repeatedly indicated that they should stop.* Phillip Zimbardo also demonstrated, via the Stanford Prison Experiment, that imbuing college students with the authority of a prison guard led them to abuse the “prisoners”, even though all participants knew this was a contrived psychological experiment.11,12 The effect was so intense that Zimbardo himself was even effected by his role as the “warden”, allowing the abuse of the prisoners. The experiment was shut down after only 6 days.

Participants from the Milgram Obedience experiments and the Stanford Prison experiment were shocked by their own behavior, and experienced distress from their involvement in the experiments. It’s easy to imagine how a constant authoritarian environment in the home could lead to very real consequences for children, when even fully grown adults can be disturbed by their obedience, even if just for the duration of a psychology experiment.

With Christian Patriarchy encouraging parents and men to assert their authority over children and women with a goal of total obedience, it seems clear that this is not a healthy environment for child development. It is well known that authoritarian parenting, where the parent strictly controls a child, often leads to unintended consequences, like acting out, and it certainly seems to have contributed to an environment in the Duggar home that both demonized sexuality, and gave Josh Duggar an opportunity to assault young girls against their will.13 Perhaps the Duggars could use a little SocialPsyQ?

Stay tuned for Part 2 on Monday, June 1st!

*The Milgram experiments used a recording or a confederate (an experimenter posing as a participant) to make participants believe that they were shocking another person in a different room, but they actually were not. No one was physically injured in these experiments and there was no evidence of lasting psychological consequences for participation.

NOTE: This article deals with the Quiverfull and Christian Patriarchy movements specifically, and does not assert that all Christians believe these things or raise their children these ways.

  1. Skinner, B. F. (1963). Operant behavior. American Psychologist, 18(8), 503.
  1. Sears, W., & Sears, M. (2001). The attachment parenting book: A commonsense guide to understanding and nurturing your baby. Little, Brown.
  1. Granju, K. A., & Kennedy, B. (1999). Attachment parenting: Instinctive care for your baby and young child. Simon and Schuster.
  1. Wearden, A., Peters, I., Berry, K., Barrowclough, C., & Liversidge, T. (2008). Adult attachment, parenting experiences, and core beliefs about self and others. Personality and Individual Differences, 44(5), 1246-1257.
  1. Bowlby, J. (2005). A secure base: Clinical applications of attachment theory (Vol. 393). Taylor & Francis.
  1. Schore, A. N. (2001). Effects of a secure attachment relationship on right brain development, affect regulation, and infant mental health. Infant mental health journal, 22(1-2), 7-66.
  1. Waters, E., Merrick, S., Treboux, D., Crowell, J., & Albersheim, L. (2000). Attachment security in infancy and early adulthood: a twenty‐year longitudinal study. Child development, 71(3), 684-689.
  1. Main, M., Kaplan, N., & Cassidy, J. (1985). Security in infancy, childhood, and adulthood: A move to the level of representation. Monographs of the society for research in child development, 66-104.
  1. Milgram, S. (1963). Behavioral study of obedience. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 67(4), 371.
  1. Milgram, S. (1965). Some conditions of obedience and disobedience to authority. Human relations, 18(1), 57-76.
  1. Haney, C., & Zimbardo, P. (1998). The past and future of US prison policy: Twenty-five years after the Stanford Prison Experiment. American Psychologist, 53(7), 709.
  1. Zimbardo, P. G., Haney, C., Curtis Banks, W., & Jaffe, D. (1972). Stanford prison experiment: a simulation study of the psychology of imprisonment. Philip G. Zimbardo, Incorporated.
  2. Aunola, K., Stattin, H., & Nurmi, J. E. (2000). Parenting styles and adolescents’ achievement strategies. Journal of adolescence, 23(2), 205-222.

It’s a Psych, Sad World: Ray Rice Elevator Video

Screen Shot 2014-09-14 at 7.23.19 PM

Still image captured from TMZ video footage.

Early last week, a video was released of NFL player Ray Rice knocking his wife out in an elevator, moments before he dragged her unconscious body across a hotel lobby. Many people are quick to point out that Janay Rice doesn’t consider herself a victim, and that she married him after the incident occurred. Still more say she would have left him if he was really abusive. But research shows that people in abusive relationships stay for complex reasons. Rusbult and Martz demonstrated that women who were more invested in their relationships were more likely to return to their abusive partner (1). Dutton and Painter showed evidence for traumatic bonding theory: the idea that intermittent abuse creates extremely strong attachments (2). And Strube and Barbour demonstrated that both commitment level and economic dependence are related to decisions to stay or leave (3). With overwhelming scientific evidence, we know that combining love and violence is rarely black and white.


(1) Rusbult, C.E., & Martz, J.M. (1995). Remaining in an abusive relationship: An investment model analysis of nonvoluntary dependence. Personal and Social Psychology Bulletin, 21(6), 558-571.

(2) Dutton, D.G., & Painter, S. (1993). Emotional attachments in abusive relationships: A test of traumatic bonding theory. Violence and Victims, 8(2), 105-120.

(3) Strube, M.J., & Barbour, L.S. (1983). The decision to leave an abusive relationship: Economic dependence and psychological commitment. Journal of Marriage and Family, 45(4), 785-793.