Academic journal article Violence and Victims

The Risk of Partner Aggression Research: Impact of Laboratory Couples Conflict Protocols on Participants

Academic journal article Violence and Victims

The Risk of Partner Aggression Research: Impact of Laboratory Couples Conflict Protocols on Participants

Article excerpt

The impact of male-to-female intimate partner violence (IPV) research on participants is unknown. A measure of impact was given to participants in an IPV study to assess systematically the impact of completing questionnaires, engaging in conflict conversations, and being interviewed individually about anger escalation and de-escalation during the conversations. Participants completed a six-question, Likert-scaled impact measure. Both male and female participants rated the impact of the study as helpful to them personally and to their relationships. Female participants rated different segments of the study as more helpful to themselves and their relationships, while male participants did not find any segment of the study to have a different impact than other segments.

Keywords: ethics; participation impact; intimate partner violence; couples; observational research

Male-to-female intimate partner violence (IPV) occurs in between 5.2 and 13.6% of U.S. couples each year (Schafer, Caetano, & Clark, 1998). IPV elevates victims' risk of physical injury (O'Leary, 1999; Thompson, Saltzman, & Johnson, 2001), chronic and acute physical problems (Coker, Smith, Bethea, King, & McKeown, 2000), and myriad psychological disorders (e.g., Major Depressive Disorder, PostTraumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse; Cascardi, O'Leary, Schlee, & Lawrence, 1995; Magdol, Moffitt, Caspi, & Silva, 1998). The prevalence and impact of IPV has evoked the interest of advocates, clinicians, and researchers alike, resulting in over 5,600 published works listed in the PsycINFO database.

An important but nearly unstudied element in this burgeoning area is the meta-topic of research participation's effect on research participants. IPV is considered a "sensitive topic"-that is, one that might pose considerable threat to both participants and researchers (Lee, 1993). Possible harm to participants in research studies on sensitive topics is a concern of institutional review boards (IRBs), whose primary goal is to ensure the safety of research participants (National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research, 1978). For many studies of IPV, it is difficult to determine whether the procedures confer "minimal risk" or "more than minimal risk." Minimal risk means that the chance and extent of harm that might result from research participation are not any greater than normally encountered during daily activities or during standard psychological or physical examinations or assessments (Department of Health and Human Services [DHHS], 2001a). Sections 46.111a1 and 46.111a2 of the Department of Health and Human Service's Code of Federal Regulations expand upon procedures researchers can follow to minimize risks and assess the cost-benefit ratio of research participation (DHHS, 2001b). Procedures commonly used in IPV research that, under many conditions, would likely confer minimal risk are questionnaires (Cascardi & Vivian, 1995; Medina, Mejia, Schell, Dawson, & Margolin, 2001), interviews (Lawson, 2003; Murphy, Winters, & O'Farrell, 2005), and problem-solving discussions (for reviews, see Heyman, 2001; Gottman, 1998).

However, is minimal risk a correct assumption for these research methods? Most researchers formulate their opinions about the risk involved in conducting such research through informal means (e.g., past experience, perceived norms within an area of study, discussions with colleagues). When little is known about the impact of a study, researchers may infer minimal risk based on these informal means, whereas IRBs may assume "worst case scenarios" (Oakes, 2002) in an attempt to protect participants. IRBs may then require that investigators take additional steps to mitigate these perceived risks. However, typically neither the IRB nor the investigator knows whether such steps (often time-consuming and/or cumbersome to both investigators and participants) are necessary because study designers and reviewers typically lack systematic, scientific studies on which to base such decisions. …

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