Parental Alienation Syndrome: 30 Years On and Still Junk Science

Vol. 54 No. 3

Rebecca M. Thomas is a PhD candidate in social psychology at the University of Nevada, Reno.

James T. Richardson, JD, PhD, is professor of Sociology and Judicial Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno. He directs the Judicial Studies graduate degree program for trial judges offered with the National Judicial College and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges.

Editor’s Note: A version of this article that includes endnotes is available from the authors, who can be reached atrebeccat@unr.edu and jtr@unr.edu.

Despite having been introduced 30 years ago, there remains no credible scientific evidence supporting parental alienation syndrome (PAS, also called parental alienation (PA) and parental alienation disorder (PAD)). The concept has not gained general acceptance in the scientific field, and there remains no test, no data, or any experiment to support claims made concerning PAS. Because of this lack of scientific credibility, many organizations—scientific, medical, and legal—continue to reject its use and acceptance.

The Presidential Task Force of the American Psychological Association on Violence in the Family has stated that “there are no data to support the phenomenon called parental alienation syndrome, in which mothers are blamed for interfering with their children’s attachment to their fathers. . . .” The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) likewise finds PAS lacking in scientific merit, advising judges that based on evidentiary standards, “the court should not accept testimony regarding parental alienation syndrome, or ‘PAS.’ The theory positing the existence of PAS had been discredited by the scientific community”; and “the discredited ‘diagnosis’ of ‘PAS’ (or allegation of ‘parental alienation’), quite apart from its scientific invalidity, inappropriately asks the court to assume that the children’s behaviors and attitudes toward the parent who claims to be ‘alienated’ have no grounding in reality.” The American Prosecutors’ Research Institute and the National District Attorney’s Association, legal organizations concerned with the prosecution of child abuse and domestic violence, have also dismissed PAS.

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