Luana Sorrenti is an Assistant professor at University of Messina, Sicily, Italy, who obtained her PhD in 2005. In addition to participating in national and international research projects and conferences, Luana Sorrenti organizes numerous professional activities with local schools and associations.
PsychED: What are your main areas of interest in educational psychology?
Luana Sorrenti: My main areas of interest include the cognitive, emotional and motivational factors and contextual variables involved in academic achievement and student well-being. Through my research, I have deepened the constructs of frustration intolerance, maladaptive perfectionism, learned helplessness, and school refusal in adolescents and young adults. Another area of research I am interested in concerns Specific Learning Disorders, in particular the cognitive and metacognitive processes underlying the reading and writing skills. My researches also aim to provide operational implications of prevention and intervention.
PsychED: Your featured article focuses on the fact that children of “psychologically controlling” parents can develop “learned helplessness.” Can you help us understand the link between the two?
Luana Sorrenti: Some researchers have speculated that information conveyed to children via negative life events and problematic parenting is key to the development of learned helplessness. Inadequate interactive methods and education tend to devalue the performance of the offspring and emphasize the failures. Exercising high control over important areas of functioning of the offspring can further undermine their level of self-efficacy and their own perception of competence. The erroneous belief of not being able to cope with autonomously developmental tasks, induced or enhanced by the context and associated with frequent experiences of failure, may constitute the foundation of the subsequent evolution of learned helplessness. Harsh parenting and high levels of parental criticism, in fact, may convey to children a sense of guilt, blameworthiness, and incompetence.
PsychED: Your research shows that the relation between psychological control and learned helplessness is mediated by “frustration intolerance.” Isn’t the latter more prevalent among children of overprotective parents? How can psychological control lead to frustration intolerance?
Luana Sorrenti: According to self-determination theory (SDT), interpersonal control is likely to lead to frustration of ‘psychological needs’ (autonomy, competence and relationship). Conversely, interpersonal support would contribute to satisfying these needs. Parental psychological control has been shown to be particularly strongly related to children’s depression and that it may develop in children a set of generalized insecurities about their competence and a feeling of not being in control over events in their lives. Furthermore, parental criticism could help increase the insecurity of their children, triggering a vicious circle leading to feelings of helplessness and frustration.
PsychED: Your study surveyed Italian high school students. Do you expect the relation between psychological control, frustration intolerance and learned helplessness to be universal and apply across cultures?
Luana Sorrenti: Yes, the constructs analyzed in my research originate from the international literature, only the links between them have not been deepened.
PsychED: What other areas of educational psychology are you currently interested in?
Luana Sorrenti: Now I want to deepen my studies in the field of “Positive psychology” (promotion of student well-being).
PsychED: Thank you very much!
NB. Interview edited for brevity