An “A” in Aggression may lead to an “F” in College Relationships

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It is far from uncommon to hear of dating aggression among college couples. Recently, a research team led by Erica Woodin, an Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Victoria and a registered Clinical Psychologist in British Colombia, Canada, published a study on dating aggression in emerging adulthood.

Their study looked at the roles of relationships along with individual attitudes and emotional states to predict the probability that one will commit an act of dating aggression during emerging adulthood. The researchers predicted that there would be a link between depressive symptoms and attitudes that condone aggression with individual’s relationship bonds and acts of partner aggression. More specifically, they measured cooperation, psychological aggression, physical assault, sexual force, and injury.

Sixty-five college couples completed a two-hour assessment on the history and route of their relationship. Fifty couples were placed under the category of “aggressive couples,” and showed more psychological and mild physical abuse in comparison to the “non aggressive couples”. Characteristics of these “aggressive” couples included lower female relationship satisfaction, weaker relationship bonds, higher condoning attitudes of aggression from males, and greater symptoms of depression in females. The “aggressive couples” also participated in an intervention designed to reduce partner aggression while the “non-aggressive couples” did not have to complete any further tasks.

Woodin shared, “The primary message of this study is that aggression in college dating couples is most likely when the relationship bond is weak and partners are experiencing symptoms of depression, but that when men in particular believe that it’s ok to be physically aggressive against women, they are at even greater risk of being physically aggressive against their partners. She continued, “There may be a gender difference in which men’s aggression can be predicted by their pro-aggression attitudes whereas women’s aggression is better predicted by their mood state and the quality of their relationship.”

In addition, Woodin felt passionate about the necessity of educating young men in particular. She illustrated this feeling by saying that, “Hitting women is never ok and that we also need to help young men and women learn healthy strategies for handling emotions in their relationship so that fights don’t escalate into aggression.”

There is good news that came from this study as well. The researchers found that by following up on the couples who received feedback and a brief assessment regarding their aggression were “significantly less physically aggressive with their partner in the following nine months.” They also concluded that “it is possible for men and women to become less aggressive in their relationships if there is awareness and motivation to change the aggressive behaviors.”

By Amarra Bricco
Amarra is majoring in Psychology and minoring in Human Development and Spanish. A senior, she plans on graduating in the Spring of 2014 and attending graduate school to earn a Ph.D in Clinical Psychology.

Anger at God

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What happens to one’s relationship with God when they experience significant adversity?  Do they pray for support with their personal struggles?  Do they embrace the notion that the Lord works in mysterious ways?  Or, do they become angry with God?  In a recent article published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, a team of researchers led by Dr. Julie Exline, completed a series of fives studies that dealt with predictors, prevalence, and individual differences in anger toward God.  Dr. Exline said she became interested in the topic of anger at God when researching interpersonal anger and forgiveness: “It occurred to me that people could also become angry at God. For those with religious commitments, the topic is interesting in part because it is often seen as taboo.  For the nonreligious, the topic can also be interesting because anger toward God can be part of a process of disaffiliating with religion or deciding not to believe in God.” 

With this in mind, Dr. Exline and her colleagues designed a study to indentify how prevalent anger toward God truly is and if there are differences between age, gender, and religious affiliation.  Their first study explored a national sample of almost 1,500 men and women and found that anger toward God was reported most by young, white, highly educated, women.  That said, more than 60% of participants surveyed described some anger at God.  Dr. Exline states that this is one of the primary messages to be taken from the study: Quite simply, “many people experience anger toward God”. 

Studies two and three looked at the types of incidents that led to anger toward God and the other types of emotions people felt in these situations.  Dr. Exline found that “people tend to get mad at God for the same reasons they get mad at other people”.  However, the following types of incidents seem to cause the greatest anger toward God: bereavement, illness or injury, interpersonal problems, accidents, and personal failures.  Anger was a common emotional response to these situations but positive emotions were reported as well suggesting, as Dr. Exline points out, that “people can be angry at God while still feeling love or respect toward God”. 

The fourth and fifth studies focused on the emotional responses toward God following specific types of losses.  In the fourth, it was the death of a loved one.  Participants in this study again reported more positive than negative emotions toward God.  However, certain circumstances led to greater anger toward God.  Specifically, participants were more likely to be angry with God if participants held God responsible for the loss, if the deceased was younger, and/or the death was sudden.  Finally, in the fifth study, the researchers looked specifically at emotional responses toward God when diagnosed with cancer.  Here, they found that older cancer patients were less angry at God and the participants who were most angry at God were those who identified their cancer type as severe.  Likewise, participants who thought of themselves as victims reported greater anger.

Dr. Exline identified the take home message of the study as being that “if you’re angry at God, you’re not alone.”  She also wanted to reach out to those readers who may be “interested in sharing their own relevant experiences” as she and her colleagues are “still seeking participants for several online studies. Any English speaker aged 18 or over is welcome to participate at http://psychology.case.edu/research/god/index.html.”

By Jennifer Meiselwitz
Jennifer Meiselwitz is a 2011 graduate of the Human Development and Psychology departments at the 
University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.  She plans on attending graduate school to earn an advanced degree and, ultimately, become a college professor. 

Teen Dating Violence in the Technological Age

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What role do our new technologies play in teen dating violence? According to an August 2010 study published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, they play a significant one.  Electronic technologies have given us the ability to stay in constant touch with our loved ones which, in theory, is a good thing but not, necessarily, in practice.  The study found that in relationships where there is verbal, emotional, and physical violence, electronic aggression serves as another possible source of cruelty. 

The study’s lead author, Dr. Claire Burke Draucker, said her research team sought to identify technology’s role in dating after doing interviews with young adults where they were surprised “by the large role that electronic technologies, such as cell phones and the Internet, played in the dating violence stories.”  According to Dr. Draucker, “the use of technologies adds dimensions to the dating violence experience that are not well understood.  For example, if a partner calls a teen a derogatory name on Facebook, the insult stays indefinitely and it is seen by many, and therefore is likely to have different effects than if said privately.” 

More specifically, the perpetrators of teen dating violence used technology to control their partners’ behaviors by influencing who they socialize with and to verbally abuse them.  Abusers would repeatedly call their partners to find out where they were, who they were with, and to berate them if they were with someone the abuser saw as a threat.  The verbal abuse occurred as phone messages, abusive text and email messages, and even abusive websites dedicated to the victims of the attacks.  Abusers would also use electronic technology to invade privacy by taking the victims’ mobile telephone to look at call and text histories or to hack into a social networking email to look for incriminating evidence of infidelity.

Finally, Dr. Draucker points out that both parents and clinicians need to be aware of the possibility of electronic aggression.  For clinicians, those “who work with adolescents who are at risk for dating violence should explore whether they use electronic technologies aggressively or whether they are the recipients of aggression via electronic technologies.”  Likewise, parents need to be aware that of this potential use of electronic technologies as “many of the participants in our study did not tell their parents about the aggression they experienced as a result of the technologies, although they were deeply disturbed by it.”

By Rosemary Prem
Rosemary Prem is a 2010 graduate of the Psychology program at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.  She has minors in Social Change and Development and Theater and is currently applying to graduate programs in Psychology.

The Importance of Couple-Coping in Decreasing Relationship Conflict

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It has long been known that people under stress are prone to angry outbursts and, consequently, increased conflict in their relationships. It is not surprising, therefore, that individual coping skills are critical to managing stress and maintaining healthy relationships. However, new research in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships points out how dyadic coping, when both partners respond to stressors together in a cooperative way, can lead to less intense relationship conflict.

Dyadic coping is when partners respond supportively to one another when under stress. People with good dyadic coping skills tend to delegate tasks in a healthy way when under duress and tend to work together in dealing with external stress. The study looked at the impact of individual and dyadic coping as they relate to stress, anger, and verbal aggression. Results indicated that, while individual coping skills were relevant, they were less relevant than dyadic coping skills.

The study’s lead author, Dr. Guy Bodenmann of the University of Zurich, says that clinicians “should be more aware of the deleterious impact of stress on couples’ interaction and daily life and consider this aspect in working with couples in prevention work as well as in therapy. The findings that stress increases the likelihood of verbal aggression is important as it shows that often couples (even those who are usually able to communicate adequately with each other) may lose this competence when under stress.” He says that because dyadic coping is so important to healthy expressions of anger, it is important to recognize that “strengthening couples’ coping may be a promising and important focus in improving the couples’ functioning.”

Dr. Bodenmann says that the primary message of this study is that “understanding stress, in one partner or the other, might provide important information for making relationship improvements. People enter relationships hoping for compassion and understanding and those relationships suffer a great deal when one or both partners engage in anger and aggression. Containing and eliminating angry outbursts, especially when they become physical, is one of the first steps that a person can take to improve a relationship.”

By Ryan C. Martin