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Faculty Sponsor

Dr. Jody Ross


Department of Psychology


Certain forms of intimate partner violence (IPV) (e.g., psychological aggression, female-perpetrated IPV) may be less likely than others (e.g., male-perpetrated physical aggression) to be considered “abusive.” Research on intimate partner violence (IPV) suggests it is common among young adults, with up to 45-78% experiencing IPV (Linder & Collins, 2005; Smith, White, & Holland, 2003). Similarly high rates of psychological aggression are reported, with some victims describing it as more harmful than physical IPV (Follingstad et al., 1990). Although IPV is common, data suggest it is not readily identified as abuse in all forms (e.g., female-perpetrated IPV) (Dardis et al., 2015). Undergraduates read two IPV scenarios based the Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS2; Strauss et al., 1996), a widely used measure of IPV. The scenarios depicted increasingly severe (a) physical and (b) psychological acts of IPV. Perpetrator-victim gender in the scenarios was varied across participants, half of whom will receive a brief definition of intimate partner abuse before the scenarios. Participants identified the point in each scenario where they believe the perpetrator’s behavior “crossed the line” and became “abusive.” We predicted that a history of IPV perpetration, maladaptive personality symptoms, accepting attitudes towards IPV, and violence in one’s family of origin would relate to higher thresholds for considering an aggressive act “abusive.” In our sample, a significantly higher proportion of women (33%) as compared to men (10%) reported that they had ever done something physically aggressive to their current or most recent romantic partner (X2 (1, N = 350) = 19.29, p < .001). Significant gender differences also were found in the proportion of participants who said that they had been psychologically aggressive toward their partners [55% of men and 68% of women; X2 (1, N = 350) = 5.43, p < .05]. Regression analyses predicting participants’ threshold ratings for the IPV scenarios were run separately for male and female participants; socially desirable responding was entered first as a covariate. The models predicting men’s and women’s thresholds for the male-perpetrator physical abuse scenario and those predicting women’s thresholds for the female-perpetrator physical and psychological abuse scenarios were significant. As expected, men with the highest thresholds for “abuse” (i.e., those who only considered severe acts of male physical aggression as abusive) scored high on a measure of narcissistic personality and reported more accepting attitudes toward women’s physical aggression, in particular. Contrary to prediction, men scoring high on a measure of antisocial personality had low thresholds for men’s physical “abuse.” Like men, women with accepting attitudes toward violence had the highest threshold ratings for the male-perpetrator, physical aggression scenarios. With regard to the female-perpetrator scenarios, female participants with the highest thresholds for women’s physical violence had more severe histories of IPV victimization, which was the opposite of our prediction. Women with high thresholds for women’s psychological aggression came from families with high rates of inter-parental violence. There was no difference in the average threshold ratings for participants who did versus did not read an official definition of “abuse” before presentation of the IPV scenarios. However, when participants were asked to rate the severity of each of the eight psychologically- and twelve physically-aggressive acts in the scenarios, differences did emerge, based on exposure to the “abuse” definition. Unexpectedly, women who read the definition tended to rate each aggression item as less severe than women who did not read the definition of abuse. The opposite was true for male participants, who, as expected, tended to rate the abusive acts as more severe, if they were provided the official definition of abuse. 33



Perceptions of Intimate Relationships: When is it Abuse?

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