Academic journal article Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy

Articulated Cognitive Distortions and Cognitive Deficiencies in Maritally Violent Men

Academic journal article Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy

Articulated Cognitive Distortions and Cognitive Deficiencies in Maritally Violent Men

Article excerpt

Twenty maritally violent (MV) and 20 maritally satisfied, nonviolent men (SNV) participated in an Articulated Thoughts in Simulated Situations (ATSS) assessment. Participants listened to audiotaped interpersonal interactions and articulated their thoughts at 30-second intervals. As predicted by Holtzworth-Munroe's (1992) information processing model of marital violence, MV participants emitted more global irrational beliefs and automatic thoughts, especially in response to interactions designed to induce anger. MV men also emitted a greater number of specific cognitive distortions (Demandingness, Low Frustration Tolerance, Global Self/Other Ratings, Arbitrary Inference, Overgeneralization, Magnification, and Dichotomous Thinking statements). In contrast, SNV men emitted more Anger Control statements during anger arousal, indicating that MV men may have a deficiency in generating effective conflict resolution strategies. Implications of these data in terms of information processing theories of marital anger and aggression are discussed.

At least two million women are battered by their husbands each year (Straus & Gelles, 1986) and this figure probably underestimates reality (Gelles & Straus, 1988; O'Leary et al., 1989). Lifetime prevalence data indicate that between 21 % and 34% of women will be the victims of physical aggression by their husbands or intimate partners (Browne, 1993), and more than twice as many women are shot and killed by their partners than are murdered by strangers (Kellerman& Mercy, 1992). Developing a clear understanding of the unique features of maritally violent men in order to develop effective intervention and prevention programs is therefore critical. However, in their review of research on the characteristics of maritally violent men, Tolman and Bennett (1990; see also Holtzworth-Munroe & Stuart, 1994) concluded that "the heterogeneity of behavioral and psychological characteristics suggest that no one pathology can be linked to battering" (p. 101). It is therefore important to continue to examine the validity of various models of marital violence in an attempt to specify potentially meaningful etiological factors and intervention dimensions.

In this study, we examined the cognitive characteristics of maritally violent men exhibited during laboratory anger arousal. While cognitive models of psychopathology and personality, such as those proposed by Ellis (1994) and Beck (1976), have gained wide clinical acceptance, it is only recently that they have been applied to marital violence (e.g., Holtzworth-Munroe, 1992; O'Leary & Vivian, 1990). To investigate the role of specific cognitive processes in marital anger and aggression, we examined articulated cognitive distortions (i.e., presence of irrational beliefs and automatic thoughts) and cognitive deficiencies (i.e., absence of anger control statements) using a controlled anger-induction procedure with maritally violent and maritally satisfied, nonviolent men.

As indicated by a recent review (Eckhardt, Barbour, & Stuart, 1997), intense anger has been found to be a distinguishing characteristic of maritally violent men relative to nonviolent comparisons. However, Margolin and colleagues (Burman, Margolin, & John, 1993; Margolin, John, & Gleberman, 1988) have noted that the cognitive processes associated with anger hyperarousal have not received sufficient research attention. Given the focus on cognitive factors in current multidimensional theories of anger and aggression (e.g., Berkowitz, 1993; Kassinove & Sukhodolsky, 1995; Novaco, 1994), investigation of the cognitions associated with anger arousal and aggressive behavior is necessary. To guide a more focused investigation of the relationship between cognition, anger, and marital violence, two complementary cognitive theories are available. At a general level, the cognitive theories of Ellis (1994) and Beck (1976) have focused on hypothesized irrational beliefs or automatic thoughts that occur during threatening or frustrating situations. …

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