Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Acts of Psychological Aggression against a Partner and Their Relation to Physical Assault and Gender

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Acts of Psychological Aggression against a Partner and Their Relation to Physical Assault and Gender

Article excerpt

The overall positive association between psychological aggression and physical assault is well known. We used an item analysis to assess whether specific acts of psychological aggression are more closely associated with physical assault than others. Male and female undergraduates (n = 374) completed an early version of the Revised Conflict Tactics Scales about a courtship relationship. Results indicated that all psychological items were associated with physical assault for both men and women. Only certain items reflecting malicious intent, such as destroying the property of one @ partner threatening to hit one's partner and some name calling, discriminated between the presence of minor and severe violence. Some associations were stronger for males than for females, indicating that males may be more likely to engage in multiple forms of aggression. These findings have implications for defining a battering syndrome.

Key Words: gender "partner violence," "psychological aggression."

Psychological aggression has been an understudied component of partner violence, perhaps because it has more normative support than physical assault (Vissing, Straus, Gelles, & Harrop, 1991). Numerous clinical analyses, however, indicate that psychological aggression, which includes verbal and other attacks that do not directly involve assaulting another's body, is an important component of battering (e.g., NiCarthy, 1987; Pence & Paymar, 1993; Walker, 1984) and may be even more damaging than physical assaults in the long run (Berger, Fischer, & Rose, 1994). Nonetheless, there are only a few studies that have quantitatively examined psychological aggression, and some of these have looked at psychological abuse in isolation from other forms of partner violence that may be occurring in the same relationship (e.g., Kasian & Painter, 1992; Stets, 1991). Those who have examined the correlation between physical and psychological aggression have consistently demonstrated that higher levels of psychological aggression are associated with higher levels of physical assault (Murphy & O'Leary, 1989; Stets, 1990; Straus, 1974; Tolman, 1995). To date, however, this association has been examined only in the aggregate. That is, only overall levels of psychological aggression have been correlated with overall levels of physical assault. Although this is an essential first step in any study of the occurrence of multiple forms of abuse, these studies do not examine important differences in the nature of the association between degrees of psychological and physical aggression.

The Issue of Gender Parity in Partner Violence Research

In particular, past research of this type has led to a major controversy: Is there gender parity in the perpetration of partner violence (cf. Johnson, 1995; Straus, 1990a). Many studies of physical assault, especially those using community and student samples, have not found gender differences in rates of assault (e.g., Stets & Straus, 1990). Previous research on psychological aggression has also suggested that rates of inflicting this form of abuse are comparable for mates and females in intimate relationships (e.g., Stets, 1991; Straus & Sweet, 1992). Stets found this to be true even at the item level of measurement. Although there is one published exception to this pattern (Kasian & Painter, 1992, found more verbal abuse by males than females), these studies still contrast sharply with clinical and arrest reports of aggression perpetrated primarily by males (Koss et al., 1994).

The issue of gender parity has been the driving force behind recent theoretical moves to reexamine what is meant by partner violence or battering. Johnson (1995) has suggested that partner violence may consist of two fairly distinct phenomena. He calls the kind of violence primarily found in community surveys "common couple violence" and the severe abuse described in more clinical analyses "patriarchal terrorism. …

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