Category: Couples / Close Relationships
Introduction: Research has indicated that intimate partner violence (IPV) is a serious public health concern. While risk factors for IPV have been well-documented, research examining protective factors is sparse and thus of critical importance. In the present research, we address this empirical gap by examining whether a potential protective factor – psychological flexibility (PF) – inhibits physical IPV perpetration in the presence of two robust risk factors: anger arousal and alcohol intoxication. We hypothesized that (1) change in state anger would predict participants’ IPV perpetration during the task, and (2) the relation between change in state anger and IPV perpetration would be weaker among individuals who report higher, relative to lower, levels of PF. We also conducted an exploratory test of how alcohol might interact with the predicted anger change by PF interaction.
Methods: Participants included 291 heavy drinkers (175 males) in a heterosexual relationship with a history of IPV perpetration. Participants were randomly assigned to receive either an alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverage and then engaged in a reaction time task wherein they received electric shocks from, and were able to issue shocks ostensibly to, their partners (the Taylor Aggression Paradigm; TAP). Participants’ state anger was measured prior to, and following, a pre-TAP provocation.
Results: We conducted linear regression analyses to assess the effect of change in state anger, PF, beverage condition, and their interactions on aggression. Consistent with hypothesis 1, change in participants’ self-reported anger in response to a pre-TAP provocation predicted the duration of the shock they issued their partners during the second trial of the task (a measure of response to provocation) (β= .17, p = .01). Moreover, consistent with hypothesis 2, PF moderated this relationship, such that the relation between change in state anger in response to the pre-TAP provocation and IPV perpetration was significantly stronger for individuals low in PF (β = -.61, p = .01) than for individuals high in PF (β = -.79, p = .01). There was also a significant three-way interaction between change in anger, PF, and beverage condition, such that PF only attenuated the relation between change in state anger and IPV perpetration for intoxicated individuals (β = -.36, p < .001).
Discussion: Results indicate that PF may be a significant inhibitor of IPV perpetration in the presence of other risk factors, such as anger and alcohol intoxication. Because it is theorized that an individual’s level of PF can be modified, these results suggest that PF may be a powerful point of intervention for those at high risk for IPV perpetration.
Molly Maloney– Graduate Student, Purdue University
Andrea Massa– Graduate Student, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana
Joel Sprunger– Predoctoral Fellow, Purdue University
Christopher Eckhardt– Purdue University
Dominic Parrott– Georgia State University