Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Harsh Physical Discipline in Childhood and Violence in Later Romantic Involements: The Mediating Role of Problem Behaviors

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Harsh Physical Discipline in Childhood and Violence in Later Romantic Involements: The Mediating Role of Problem Behaviors

Article excerpt

This study examines the impact that experiencing harsh physical discipline in childhood and engaging in problem behaviors during adolescence and young adulthood have on experiencing and perpetrating intimate violence. Using LISREL 7, we tested a model based on social learning theory, Freudian theory, and theories of deviance. The 608 cases analyzed are from a longitudinal study of adolescents conducted in 1982 and 1992-1993. The results suggest that harsh physical punishment in childhood is directly related to greater perpetration of violence against an intimate partner later in life. The enactment of problem behaviors in adolescence and young adulthood was also found to increase the level of perpetration of violence against an intimate partner. In addition, harsh physical punishment in childhood was found to be indirectly but significantly related to increased perpetration via the intervening variables of adolescent and young adult problem behavior. We hypothesized that perpetration and victimization are significantly related to one another bidirectionally, but the results only support

that greater levels of perpetration lead to increased levels of victimization.

Key Words: child abuse, deviant behavior, intimate violence.

Several researchers have focused on the hypothesis that experiencing harsh physical discipline or abuse in childhood is a primary factor in the etiology of intimate violence. Social learning theory suggests that those who are subjected to harsh discipline learn that violence can be an effective way to change the behavior of others (Simons, Lin, & Gordon, 1998). These individuals are therefore at higher risk than are others of abusing their romantic partners in later life. Although theoretically compelling, this hypothesis has met with mixed results. Although many studies find associations between harsh punishment and either perpetration of or victimization by violence in later romantic relationships (e.g., Kalmuss, 1984), other studies find no such effects (e.g., DeMaris, 1990) or suggest that more proximal factors have greater importance (e.g., Malone, Tyree, & O'Leary, 1989).

Regardless of whether a reliable association exists between harsh physical discipline and later intimate violence, a complete understanding of this link requires the identification of its mediating mechanisms (Marini & Singer, 1988). In this paper, we propose and test a model of intimate violence that is grounded in both social learning and problem-behavior theories and that specifies the development of problem behaviors in adolescence as the primary mechanism. We focus on violence in the intimate relationships of young adults because early relationships are critical to the establishment of enduring patterns of interaction with a romantic partner. The primacy of childhood experience also suggests that if being hit as a child precipitates violence against later romantic partners, this association should be evident early in people's romantic careers (DeMaris, 1990). In contrast to many studies of this topic that employ cross-sectional data to test developmental hypotheses (e.g., Alexander, Moore, & Alexander, 1991; Simons, Johnson, Beaman, & Conger, 1993; Straus & Yodanis, 1996), our study is longitudinal. We also include roughly equal numbers of male and female respondents and Black and White respondents. First, we turn to a discussion of the theoretical issues involved.

THEORETICAL BACKGROUND

Social Learning Theory

According to social learning theory, violence toward others is learned behavior (Bandura, 1973, 1977). Individuals infer that violence is an effective means for gaining control over the behavior of others by observing or experiencing the use of violence for this purpose. To the extent that those who employ violence are not punished but rewarded for their actions, observers are more likely to use such tactics in interaction with others (Bandura, 1977). …

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