Amy Baker and Parental Alienation Syndrome: Is This What Scientific Research Looks Like?

(emphasis mine)

In 2005, Amy Baker conducted a study of adults who self-identified as having been alienated from one of their parents during childhood. Thirty-eight adults (14 males and 24 females) were recruited by word of mouth and from over one hundred advertisements placed on the internet message boards for people who had been victims of parental alienation syndrome.

Through one hour semi-structured telephone interviews, Baker learned about the participants’ perceived relationship with their estranged parent. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and analyzed using a content analysis program coding for “impact of the alienation on the participant” (Baker, 2005:292). All but seven of the alleged alienators were mothers. The findings showed that the alienation perceived by the participants negatively affected several areas of their adult lives and relationships. The participants reported high rates of low self-esteem/self-hatred, believing themselves unlovable because of the alienation from one parent, which they interpreted as rejection (2005:294). This self-hatred accounted for the guilt they felt because of the role they played in the alienation (2005:294). Over 70 percent revealed episodes of depression that they attributed to the separation from their alienated parent, and the lack of opportunity to mourn this loss while children (2005:296). Thirty-three percent of the participants had drug or alcohol addictions that they associated with their childhood circumstances. Some of these participants confessed to having a conflicted relationship with their alienating parent during their teen years because of their mental manipulation; they had turned to drugs and alcohol as an escape (2005:297-298). Sixteen people talked of their difficulties trusting others as well as themselves and of falling into the same divorcing and/or alienating pattern as their parents (2005:294). Sixty-six percent of the participants were divorced and of the twenty-eight who were parents, half were alienated from their own children (2005:300). All the participants believed they had been victims of parental alienation syndrome.

Baker qualifies her study by stating it represents only a fraction of the data collected and that many of the 38 subjects reported having positive life experiences not included in her results. She only reported negative outcomes, presenting the subjects as unhappy, maladjusted individuals, and did not address possible confounding variables that could account for her results such as poverty and lack of opportunities. Instead, she presents the results as a package combining all the participants’ responses together under different headings such as “low self-esteem”, depression, and drug/alcohol problems, referring to the number of participants in the various categories as “some” or “many”. Baker based her study on the premise that parental alienation syndrome was a conclusive element in her subjects’ lives and drew on Gardner’s theory to analyze their retrospective stories. She does not volunteer the list of questions asked during the interviews and little information is provided regarding the content analysis of the transcripts. She does not offer any scale of reference to help the reader judge the extent of the impact on the subjects. The reader is expected to accept the author’s conclusions as “true”.


You will find Dr. Amy Baker across the internet, mainly on news publications that touch on, or allude to, parental alienation syndrome (see Every Child Has Parental Alienation Syndrome). She promotes her book heavily while expressing sympathy for victims...of PAS. She is touted as a major authority on the subject matter. With all the education she has received, you'd think that she recognize the lack of science in her "research."

In order for adults to self-identify with the concept of parental alienation syndrome, you'd have to assume they had some knowledge of what the term means.
  • Who provided the definition to them?
  • What did that definition consist of?
This is the first error of parental alienation syndrome: You cannot use the definition of the syndrome to diagnose the syndrome. This is circular reasoning. (ie, with a stomach ucler: the patient describes the symptoms, the practitioner observes the signs through testing measures, the diagnosis is then given based on the evidence. The practitioner does not tell the patient what constitutes an ulcer, and then have the patient verify that THOSE particular symptoms are present, and then confirm the diagnosis.)

Furthermore, it would be unwise to have an adult make a judgement about a situation that occurred during childhood because that adult is able to process and rationalize things in a different manner, which will be influenced by other life circumstances that may or may not be revealed to the researcher. Also, hindsight is 20/20, and some adults may be looking for an escape or excuse for behaviors for which they are indeed responsible. Their current perception of what once existed is not necessarily proof that it did [exist].
  • How can this adult know the difference between a protective parent that alienated, and a malicious parent that is alienated unless all truth be known about what occured in the past?
  • And how do you verify this without including the parents themselves?
This is another error of parental alienation syndrome: it is based on the victim's (just like the target parent) perception (although the victim of PAS is said to be the child) of what has occurred.

Is this what scientific research looks like?