Theses defended

Famílias no mundo digital: Padrões de utilização, ciclo de vida e dinâmica familiar

Joana Carvalho

Public Defence date
October 19, 2022
Doctoral Programme
Inter-University PhD Program in Psychology
Ana Paula Relvas , Gonzalo Bacigalupe e Rita Francisco
Digital technologies have been progressively incorporated into our daily lives. Technological advances and the integration of these technologies in the family context have created new interaction scenarios and rearranged family relational models, causing unprecedented changes in family dynamics.

The interplay between technology use and family dynamics, despite being a current and relevant topic of study, especially concerning the increased number of problematic situations arising from its use in the family context, is characterized by the ambivalence of the results in the literature, focusing on specific stages of the family's life cycle. To contribute to scientific knowledge and clinical practice, we set out to characterize the use of digital technologies by Portuguese families and analyse their relationship with family dynamics at different stages of the family life cycle, across four sequential studies.

In the first one, we started by perceiving the state of the art to obtain a theoretical framework for the influence of digital technologies on family functioning, we reflected on its limitations and possible future lines of investigation. This was followed by the construction of the research project that globally marked the starting point of this work.

In the second study, using a sample of 950 individuals of Portuguese nationality, we built and validated a multidimensional instrument for the Portuguese population about the use of digital technologies and their impact in the family domain, the Information and Communication Technologies Use Questionnaire (QUTIC). This allowed us to operationalize the use of technologies in various dimensions and characterize their use in three patterns of individual use: Non-users, Advanced users, and Instrumental-Entertainment/Social users. The main family problems arising from the use of digital technologies were also identified, and a scale of attitudes, the global perception of the impact of these technologies in the family context was also measured. The results obtained on this scale around the average suggest a balance in the perception of positive and negative influences of digital technologies on the lives of families, surpassing the traditional dichotomous view that emphasizes the risks in comparison to the benefits of its use.

The third and fourth studies involved the application of a self-response protocol including instruments that allowed the assessment of several variables: the family functioning, the family quality of life, the family rituals, the number of technologies used, the type of technologies used, the frequency of use of the technologies, the context of use of the technologies, the purpose of using the technologies, the family problems arise from the use of technologies and the impact of its use in the family context. The third study focused on the analysis of the influence of digital technologies on the family functioning at different stages of the family life cycle. Thus, in a sample of 564 individuals from families at different stages of the family life cycle, we found that family members' technology use varied across different family life cycle stages, and the higher the number of technologies used daily, the more positive perceptions of family functioning were reported. This was particularly true for new couples and families with young children, considered the greatest daily users of technologies. However, the relationship between technology use and family functioning was not moderated by the family life cycle stage.

In the fourth study, using a sample of 825 individuals, we analysed the impact of the use of digital technologies on family dynamics (assessed in the dimensions of family functioning, quality of family life and family rituals) and additionally, we constructed a comprehensive systemic model of this interaction between digital technologies and family dynamics. Results showed that a higher number of problematic situations experienced in the family context arising from digital technologies use were associated with more problematic family functioning and to reduced family quality of life.

This work enabled a better understanding of who the users of digital technologies in Portugal are, what their profiles of technological use are and the perception they have of the impact that their uses have in the family context, in different family life cycle stages and according to different patterns of technology use. It is hoped that these results can be an inspiration for future investigations and that they can be applied in clinical practice, not only in the identification of problematic family situations, but also in the prevention and intervention strategies which are better adjusted to the challenges that the use of digital technologies continually poses to our families.

Keywords: Digital technologies; Technological patterns of use; Family life cycle; Family dynamics