Intergenerational Transmission of Violence, Self-Control, and Conjugal Violence: A Comparative Analysis of Physical Violence and Psychological Aggression

By Avakame, Edem F. | Violence and Victims, January 1, 1998 | Go to article overview

Intergenerational Transmission of Violence, Self-Control, and Conjugal Violence: A Comparative Analysis of Physical Violence and Psychological Aggression


Avakame, Edem F., Violence and Victims


This paper is a sequel to Avakame (1998), a study which sought to determine whether (a) violence in families of origin affects males' psychological aggression toward wives, and (b) whether the intergenerational transmission effect is solely direct or mediated by Gottfredson and Hirschi's concept of self-control. The current research extends these questions to females' psychological aggression as well as males' and females' physical violence. The models were estimated using data from the 1975 National Family Violence Survey. Like its precursor, results of the present research suggest that it is useful to (a) distinguish between mothers' and fathers' violence and (b) recognize that the intergenerational transmission of violence may be mediated by self-control. Specifically, results suggested that, whether considering physical violence or psychological aggression, fathers' violence is most likely to exert the direct social learning effect.

The nuclear family is the primary socialization agent; it constitutes the key environment in which most behaviors and values are acquired (Kalmuss & Seltzer, 1989; Seltzer & Kalmuss, 1988; Smith, 1982; Thornton, 1980). As a result, one of the most widely accepted explanations of family violence is the intergenerational-transmission-of-violence model (Hotaling & Sugarman, 1986). It suggests that exposure to violence in the family of origin may lead to the development of violent behavior during adulthood (Dutton, Van Ginkel, & Starzomski, 1995; Kalmuss & Seltzer, 1989; Pressman & Sheps, 1994).

Despite the widespread endorsement of this view, the ways in which experiencing or observing violence as a child translate into adulthood violence are not clear. Recent reviews of this body of research have noted that more studies are needed to explicate whether the intergenerational transmission occurs as a direct consequence of modeling (social learning) or through some more complex processes. The current research combines the intergenerational-transmission-of-violence model with elements of Gottfredson and Hirschi's (1990) concept of self-control to specify a mechanism that may connect the observation or experience of violence as a child with later conjugal violence as an adult.

REVIEW OF RESEARCH

Intergenerational Transmission of Violence

The intergenerational transmission of violence idea suggests that violence in one's family of origin begets violence during adulthood, but it does not specify the kind of violence or the mechanism through which the transmission occurs. A popular mechanism, elaborated by social learning theory, is modeling (Bandura, 1973, 1977). According to social learning theory, behavioral examples may affect children in one of three ways. First, observing violence could lead to new patterns of behavior. Second, observing violence could weaken inhibitions against violence that were previously learned. Third, observing violence may prompt similar behavior in the observer. Straus (1980, 1991) suggested that these effects might occur because violence in the family context might lead a child to associate love with violence, to attribute a moral Tightness to violence, or to believe that important things justify the use of violence. These arguments suggest a direct violence amplification effect of interparental violence.

A second form of violence in the family of origin thought to be responsible for spouse assault is physical punishment. Straus (1980, 1991) has argued that the family of origin is one of the most important settings in which violence is learned. It is within the family that most people experience violence for the first time and establish the emotional meaning and context of violence. All of this begins with the experience of physical punishment. When physical punishment is used to discipline children, Straus argued, several consequences should be expected. The obvious and intended consequence is that children learn to avoid what they are being punished for. …

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