Carried out by researchers at Brigham Young University, the new study looked at data gathered from 164 families with children ages four to six over a two-year period.
The information included the size of the home and the number of people living in it, as well as data on whether the participants felt that the home was too crowded or too spread out.
Participants were also asked to answer questions on their family, such as "we avoid discussing our fears and concerns" and "we express tenderness."
The findings, published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, showed that the amount of space per person in the home was positively associated with a family's emotional expressiveness and family decision-making. However, how the participants perceived the space -- whether they felt too crowded or too spread out -- appeared to have a bigger influence on family relationships than the actual size.
More specifically, the results showed that feeling too crowded was linked to lower levels of family emotional expressiveness, acceptance, and decision-making, while feelings of being too spread out and distant from others was also negatively related to family acceptance. A mother's perceptions of space could also influence the link between the actual amount of space and family functioning.
"You can put two people in the same space but how they feel about that space affects how they interact with their family members," said co-author Dr. Larry Nelson. "The extent of that finding really surprised me. It was so interesting to me just how much the actual physical structure of a home, and even more so what we think of our home, really affects how we treat one another in families."
"Before this study, I thought if your home just had the perfect square footage, so much per person, and you were organized, that you would have the ideal home," added study co-author Carly Thornock. "While the actual square footage affected families and how they functioned, it was really how they felt about the home in general that had the biggest effect."
The researchers note that modifying homes, by arranging the furniture, changing the decor, and through the overall use of space, could positively influence family relationships.
They advise creating a home which helps family members feel secure and with an adequate amount of privacy, and in some homes using certain layouts such as an open floor plan could be useful in changing the perception of feeling trapped, or even too far apart from other people.
"There's a lot you can do to nurture your relationships with your family without saying anything," Thornock said. "As a parent, if you want your kids to feel close and connected, you could consider putting their pictures on the wall in a highly visible spot in the home."