The Applicability of the Theory of Planned Behavior to Abusive Men's Cessation of Violent Behavior

Article excerpt

This study examined the ability of Ajzen's (1988; 1991) Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) to explain men's cessation of violent behavior. TPB suggests that a man's intention to abuse his female partner, and therefore his subsequent abusive behavior will be determined by: (1) his evaluation of possible outcomes of abusive behavior (attitudes toward behavior); (2) his perception of the expectations of others around him concerning violence and (3) the degree to which he believes he can control his abusive behavior. Pretest self-report measures from men and follow-up recidivism data based on partner report were available for 176 cases drawn from a previous study conducted by Harrell (1991). Reliable proxy measures for TPB variables (intentions/expectations to use violence, attitudes toward behavior, social norms, perceived behavioral control) were created. Regression analyses testing the TPB model provided modest support for prediction of intention to reabuse and subsequent abusive behavior. Of the TPB variables, perceived control appeared to be most important in understanding batterers' intentions to abuse and their subsequent abusive behavior. Refinement in measurements and the need for additional modifications to the model are discussed.

The current literature on approaches to changing men's abusive behavior leaves an important question largely unanswered: Which modifiable intrapersonal, interpersonal, and social ecological risk factors are most strongly associated with men ending their abusive behaviors and adopting alternative ones? While evidence exists that some men change their behavior we know very little about the mechanisms of this change. The existing literature on effectiveness of intervention makes it clear that the underlying mechanisms of change are not exclusively associated with one intervention or another. Despite the growing use of criminal justice and social service interventions, the evidence for their efficacy is not yet clearly established. Studies of existing small group programs for batterers, reviewed by Tolman and Edleson (1995), revealed a consistent finding that in programs using a variety of methods, a large proportion of men stopped their physically abusive behavior subsequent to interventions. Reports of successful outcomes ranged from 53% to 85%. This favorable evidence must be viewed cautiously in light of other explanatory factors and numerous methodological shortcomings in most studies. For example, lower percentages of success tended to occur in programs with lengthier follow-up and when success was based on reports of women victims rather than official arrest rates or men's self-reports. Many social service programs experience high levels of offender attrition, further diluting their overall effectiveness (see Deschner, 1984; Harrell, 1991). A major methodological shortcoming of the existing literature on group treatment is the scarcity of experimental studies, leaving open the question of whether intervention itself is responsible for change in abusive men's behavior.

Similarly, studies of arrest in cases of domestic violence have not shown evidence of consistent findings. For example, Sherman and Berk (1984) initially reported a controlled experiment in which arrest in misdemeanor domestic violence cases reduced recidivism rates to half the levels found when other police actions (i.e., mediation and separation) were applied. Yet, subsequent studies (see Berk, Campbell, Klep, & Western, 1992; Dunford, Huizinga, & Elliot, 1990; Hirschel & Hutchison, 1992; Pate & Hamilton, 1992; Sherman et al., 1991) have shown a more varied picture with different results in different cities. On average, arrest was found as effective as other interventions (such as separation and mediation) (Berk, 1993), but within some subgroups (e.g., unemployed men) overall violence was shown to be higher (Sherman, 1992).

A number of studies also indicate that some men change their abusive behavior without any apparent social service or criminal justice system involvement. …