Anger and Intimate Partner Violence

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Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a widespread problem.  Due to the aggressive nature of these acts, it stands to reason that anger would contribute to IPV.  A recent study by Dr. Sara Elkins and colleagues in Psychology of Violence sought to evaluate the link between recent anger and likelihood of IPV.  According to Elkins, “[a]nger interventions fell out of favor in partner violence intervention programs in the mid-90’s in response to claims that anger management interventions for domestic violence infer blame on the victim, promote perpetrator denial because they don’t account for abuse related to exerting power and control, and may place female partners at greater risk for revictimization.” Many local and state advocates for victims of domestic violence have removed anger-focused treatments in a reaction to these assumptions – but this decision may have been too hasty.

No act is committed in a vacuum and as such there are multiple factors that contribute to IPV perpetration.  IPV is most likely when the individual possesses strong instigation (exposure to behaviors by a partner that typically “provoke” an urge to aggress), strong impellance (trait or situational factors that prepare the urge to aggress when meeting an instigating factor), and weak inhibition (trait or situational factor that will increase the likelihood that the individual will suppress the urge to aggress).  Past research has also suggested that younger age, greater relationship dissatisfaction, and shorter length of relationship have been related to increased rates of IPV.  To add to this research, Elkins also examined any possible gender differences that existed.

In Elkins’ current study, participants were given a handheld computer on which they completed a daily-electronic diary assessment for two months.  It measured relationship satisfaction, daily anger, and occurrence of aggression toward intimate partners (i.e., psychological, physical assault, and sexual coercion).  Recent anger was correlated with all forms of IPV.  Younger individuals are more likely than older individuals to engage in psychological aggression at moderate levels of anger.  Individuals in longer relationship were also more likely to use psychological aggression than physical aggression or sexual coercion. The rates of IPV occurring in the presence of anger were comparative between genders. The study also found that even though recent anger and relationship dissatisfaction increased the likelihood of IPV, the combination of both of these factors does not have a cumulative effect.

Studies such as these have important information for the social policies we create.  Anger is related to IPV in some cases and as such, should be part of intervention programs for those who may benefit from anger management strategies.  According to recent research, about half of the states with imposed guidelines for intervention programs for domestic violence prohibit anger-focused interventions.  The Alabama Counsel against Domestic Violence (2009) states that “men who batter use anger, alcohol/drug use, and stress as excuses for their abusive behaviors.”  Statements such as this may close possible avenues to prevent future IPV.  Elkins also adds that “[b]ased on anger ratings, electronic momentary technology could be used to provide in-the-moment coping for anger through scheduled behavioral and cognitive strategies.”

By Sarah Bohman
Sarah is a senior with a major in Psychology and a minor in Human Development at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.  After graduation, she plans on attending graduate school to earn a PhD in Clinical Psychology after graduating.

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