CHAPTER TWO (part 2)
This review of research investigating the relationship between
socio-demographic variables and the experience of violence within intimate relationships
confirms that individuals caught in abusive relationships can be defined in terms of their
place in society and the environmental agents impacting upon their lives. Researchers
committed to studying sociologically based variables have contributed to the understanding
of the family violence issues. However, notwithstanding Gelles and Straus's (1988)
claim that more than 90 percent of family violence could be accounted for by
socio-demographic variables, there is a body of literature which also suggests that
factors such as alcohol consumption and dependence and personality play a large role in
its occurrence. The focus of the next two sections will be a review of relevant
research in those areas.
It has been suggested that the consumption of alcohol is not
limited to incidents of family violence but is associated with other forms of violent
conduct ranging from common assault (Gerson, 1978) to homicide (Chimbos, 1978). Although
Hauser's (1982) review of the literature estimated the presence of alcohol in domestic
assaults as ranging between 40 and 90 percent, Roberts (1988) pointed out that most of the
research indicated a 60 to 70 percent rate of alcohol abuse among batterers. In
spite of the strong association between acts of domestic violence and the consumption of
alcohol just presented, considerable variation in reported rates is still evident.
In an effort to account for this variability, the following explanations have been put
The amount a person drinks, the degree of his
or her alcohol dependence and the extent of the violence experienced in a relationship can
vary greatly according to the sample in question (i.e., a clinical sample of batterers
and/or alcoholics v. a community sample).
The method of data collection (i.e., reports of
victims and assailants v. objective physiological measures such as obtaining blood alcohol
levels following an abuse incident) will have an impact on the degree of association
between these variables.
The strength of the relationship between
alcohol consumption and partner abuse will be influenced by whether or not researchers
make distinctions among the independent and combined effects of drug and alcohol abuse.
Quite understandably, it is also these factors that have also contributed to the
confusion surrounding the link between alcohol and domestic violence.
Theoretical basis of alcohol-related
While researchers generally agree on the magnitude of the
problem of alcohol related violence, there is less consensus concerning a theoretical
basis for this phenomenon. Two schools of thought predominate the literature on
alcohol abuse and dependence; one adheres to a medical model, while the other provides a
psychosocial paradigm of alcohol and violence.
Proponents of the former believe that the pharmacological
effects of alcohol produce physiological and cognitive responses in some individuals that
are manifested in aggressive behaviour (Frieze & Schafer, 1984; Shapiro, 1982).
Examples of such responses include: increased heart rate, skin flushing, decreased ability
to experience pain, impaired memory and reduced reaction time. Furthermore, the
application of the medical model to alcohol related violence views alcoholism as a disease
and because of this, absolves the alcoholic of the responsibilities for his or her conduct
while under its influence.
The psychosocial interpretation of alcohol induced violence
also releases the alcoholic perpetrator of violence from the responsibility for his or her
actions. However, whereas the former interpretation relies upon a disease process as the
basis for excusing violent conduct, this interpretation posits that the ingestion of
alcohol provides individuals with a socially acceptable excuse for engaging in socially
Kantor and Straus's (1990) description of an integrated model
based on this perspective strongly supports the influence of factors such as the symbolic
meaning attached to alcohol use and associated expectancies about its effects. It is
thought that situational factors present in the interactional process of individuals and
perceptual and cognitive changes stemming from the effects of alcohol combine to produce
alcohol related violent outcomes. Shapiro (1982) emphasized the role of the family
as a force that maintains the drinking behaviour in order to preserve what it perceives as
Variables derived from the psychosocial model combine to
create an environment that provides the opportunity for alcohol related violence to occur
and be sustained. Because individuals are not held accountable for their conduct
while under the influence of alcohol, it is thought that many get drunk so that they can
behave violently. In this way, the consumption of alcohol is viewed as providing
"time out" for violence (Frieze & Schafer, 1984; Livingston, 1986;
Richardson & Campbell, 1980: Russell, 1982).
As noted, the theoretical perspectives just described, share
in common the notion of absolved responsibility for the alcoholic perpetrator of violence.
However, these viewpoints differ in the mechanisms that exempt persons from being held
accountable for their own conduct. The medical model explains alcohol induced
violence by way of internal factors (i.e., physiological effects) whereas the psychosocial
model utilizes both internal and external factors (i.e., attributions of blame, social
attitudes toward alcohol and violence and cognitive effects) in its interpretation.
Variables linking alcohol
consumption to partner abuse.
In spite of the extensive literature on alcohol consumption as
it relates to various forms of family violence, there remains much confusion about the
nature of its linkage. Some of the issues in need of clarification relate to the
timing of drinking relative to violence, the relationship between the amount of alcohol
consumed and violence, and the relationship between alcohol consumption and violence
perpetrated by women.
A neglected aspect of this research area concerns the limited
number of investigations exploring the possible relationship between the occurrence of a
violent episode and the timing of alcohol ingestion. Most of the research examining
the relationship between alcohol consumption and the occurrence of domestic violence has
been correlational in nature, and has failed to consider alcohol as an immediate
antecedent of a violent episode.
Kantor and Straus's (1987) study on a nationally
representative sample of 5,159 couples addressed this issue. They found that, while a
linear relationship was found between alcohol consumption and wife abuse, alcohol was not
used immediately prior to a conflict in 76 percent of the cases. Findings of this
kind provide the opportunity to make additional inferences concerning the role of alcohol
in the occurrence of domestic violence based on objective measures of alcohol consumption
and abuse (i.e., quantity-frequency), drinking at the time of violence and wife
abuse (CTS). Kantor and Straus (1990) concluded that alcohol use at the time of
violence was neither a necessary nor a sufficient cause of wife abuse.
Leonard, Bromet, Parkinson, Day and Ryan (1985) arrived at a
similar conclusion. In a sample of community based blue collar workers (n=484
males), the authors concluded that the amount of alcohol consumed most recently is less
relevant to marital assault than is a diagnosis of alcoholism based on pathological
alcohol consumption patterns and indices of long term drinking. It appears that the
lifestyle associated with a well established pattern of drinking may be a more important
determinant of violent outcomes than a drinking episode prior to an incident of partner
An earlier study by Gerson (1978) provided contradictory
findings. Incidents of marital assaults drawn from police data all were preceded by the
consumption of alcohol by the offender (43.7%), victim (13.6%), or both offender and
victim (42.8%). It is possible that these conflicting findings are largely due to
the nature of this sample since it likely that alcohol related violence incidents come to
the attention of law enforcement agencies.
The research reviewed suggests that the long term effects of
alcohol consumption and dependence are important in understanding the mechanisms of
violence between intimates. According to Hamilton and Collins (1981), chronic
drinking has the potential to change its consumer. The physiological and cognitive
effects of alcohol alter the behaviour of the individual and shape personal interactions
through its influences. The cognitive distortions caused by the consumption of
alcohol lead to a redefinition of situational norms and increases the likelihood for
violence to occur.
The amount of alcohol consumed prior to episodes of partner
abuse is another variable in need of clarification. Kantor and Straus's (1987)
demonstration of a linear relationship between the amount of alcohol consumed and reports
of wife abuse suggests that the more alcohol consumed, the greater the likelihood for
abuse to occur due to the disinhibiting effects of alcohol on peoples' behaviour.
However, Russell (1982) suggested that alcohol produces paradoxical effects depending upon
the biochemistry of its consumer, as well as upon the amount of alcohol consumed.
Consistent with the notion that alcohol's effect on violence
may be dependent upon individual differences and the amount of alcohol consumed, Frieze
and Schafer (1984) indicated that the highest rates of violence have been reported among
moderate drinkers. Hamilton and Collins's (1981) review noted a curvilinear
association existed between these variables. The lowest rates of violence were found
among men who drank the least, followed by heavy drinkers and then finally by moderate
drinkers. Support for this relationship was also provided by Coleman and Straus
(1983) who found almost no violence for the most alcoholic group. Hamilton and
Collins (1981) suggested that for some men, high alcohol consumption appears to undermine
the capacity for violence. There may be a point at which the disinhibiting effects
of alcohol diminish and its depressive effects increase. However, it has not
been determined whether this relationship is a function of dosage level, individual
differences (i.e., biochemistry and personality) or the chronicity of a drinking problem.
The alcohol literature has tended to focus on females as
abused coalcoholics and males as alcoholic perpetrators of violence. Although studies have
implicated women's drinking in the occurrence of partner abuse, it has nevertheless, been
limited to the examination of their own victimization. To date, there have been no
empirical works investigating males as coalcoholics in households where females are
perpetrators of alcohol-related violence.
The research on female alcoholic perpetrators of partner abuse
is limited. Bland and Orn (1986) found that for those with a DSM-III diagnosis for
alcoholism, only 3.8 percent of women were violent against their partners compared to 22.3
percent of men. This study appears to suggest that the mechanism underlying the
association between alcohol consumption and partner abuse is quite different for men and
women. Coleman and Straus (1990) reported that although men get drunk more often
than women, "women who are drunk rarely or occasionally are much more likely to be
violent than males at the same frequency of alcohol use (2.6 times more likely for severe
violence and 1.2 times for all violence)" p. 116.
Frieze and Schafer (1984) proposed a cognitive model of male
and female reactions to alcohol. According to this model, "a drinker's reaction
will depend on the social context in which drinking occurs and the prior expectations of
the person about how alcohol will affect him or her" (p. 277). Because women
may interpret the sensation of warmth associated with vasodilation as emotional warmth and
men may interpret the same as power, given one's prior socialization together with the
right circumstances, men are more likely to react aggressively following the consumption
The research reviewed has demonstrated that in spite of the
strong evidence linking alcohol consumption and partner abuse, there is still much
confusion when it comes to fully understanding the nature of this association. This review
has delineated the sources of such confusion.
The notion of causation with respect to the relationship
between alcohol and partner abuse is one issue that deserves comment. Writers have
cautioned that the presence of an association between alcohol and domestic violence must
not be interpreted as implying causation (Shapiro, 1982; Van Hasselt, Morrison &
Bellack, 1985; Kantor & Straus, 1990). The use of experimental and longitudinal
designs will be important in establishing a model of causality.
Finally, there is a need to consider alcohol's
interaction effects with other variables in determining its link to violent
outcomes. For example, research by Gustafson (1985) found that the interaction
between frustration and alcohol was associated with an increase in aggression such that in
a frustrative condition, alcohol increased both the probability and strength of an
aggressive response. While studies have investigated the interaction effects of alcohol
and personality in the occurrence of partner abuse (Barnes et al., 1991; Van Hasselt et
al., 1985), there is the likelihood that other variables will interact with alcohol in its
prediction (i.e., expectancy of effects, attitudes toward partner, attitudes toward
violence). The challenge remaining is to determine whether alcohol is symptomatic of
deeper problems such as violence (Everett, 1985), or linked to dysfunctional interactions
involving personality, genetics and environmental influences.
The abandonment of an earlier conceptualization that the
perpetration of incidents of family violence was the result of psychopathology has
resulted in a limited number of epidemiological studies examining psychological risk
factors. For the most part, sociologically based research has discounted the role of
psychological variables in the occurrence of violence in the family (Gelles & Straus,
1988). Elliot (1982), on the other hand, defended biological determinants of
intrafamilial violence by stating "... for many years most sociological studies of
the subject have paid little more than lip service to biological factors such as genetics,
hormonal disorders, developmental defects and acquired damage..." (p. 37).
The role of individual differences as predictors of partner
abuse has been researched. Studies examining factors such as personality (Barnes et
al., 1991; Gondolf et al., 1990; Hamberger & Hastings, 1991), motivation (Rouse, 1990)
and attribution (Shields and Hanneke, 1983; Williams, 1990) are now evident in the
literature. The research conducted has primarily employed male clinical samples and as a
result limits the generalizability of results. Nevertheless, according to Sommer (1990),
it is these clinical studies that form the only knowledge base upon which profiles of the
spouse abusers have been built. In spite of this serious limitation, some insight
has been provided into the psychological factors differentiating abusers from nonabusers.
Moreover, their findings have also provided direction for general population based
research and the development of psychologically based theories.
Hamberger and Hasting's (1988) founded their definition of the
batterer on the following DSM-III description of personality disorder:
"personality traits that are inflexible and maladaptive
and cause either significant impairment in social or occupational functioning or
subjective distress p. 764."
Expanding upon this characterization, the authors noted that
many personality disordered individuals experience mood disturbances such as anxiety and
depression, and do not view these behavioral manifestations as either "desirable or
The aim of researchers interested in describing the partner
abuser has been to separate perpetrators of partner abuse from the general population
based on the evidence of psychopathology. Gondolf et al.'s (1989; 1990)
investigations involving a sample of violent psychiatric admissions (n=389) found that
forty-one percent of the sample was involved in incidents of violence with a family
member. Nineteen percent of them represented incidents of spousal abuse of which 67
percent were perpetrated by males.
In a replication study involving a sample of 99 men attending
a domestic violence abatement program, Hamberger and Hastings (1986) found that 88 percent
of them demonstrated some indication of psychopathology. Although multiple
personality measures (eg., Millon Clinical Multiraxial Inventory, Novaco Anger Scale, Beck
Depression Inventory) were employed, no single profile of the abuser emerged.
A factor analysis conducted by Hamberger and Hastings (1986)
confirmed the existence of three major personality categories observed in their first
study. According to the authors, these categories are consistent with the diagnoses of
schizoidal/borderline, narcissistic/antisocial and passive dependent/compulsive
personality disorders. Using a different set of assessments (16 Personality Factor,
Psychological Screening Inventory, Michigan Alcoholism Screening Test), Schuerger and
Reigle (1988) found that higher levels of violence were associated with greater pathology
in the form of anxiety, depression, schizoid tendencies, social nonconformity, as well as
signs of alcoholism among 250 men in treatment for wife abuse. These findings
suggest that the spouse abuser is someone who presents with psychopathology along a number
of dimensions rather than by a distinct set of personality features.
Hale, Duckworth, Zimostrad and Nicholas (1988) investigated
the MMPI scores of 67 men participating in a batterers' treatment programs. Their
findings confirmed previous clinical ones suggesting the existence of an antisocial
personality characterized by the following characteristics: impulsiveness, lack of respect
for social standards, frequent difficulties with the law and with their families,
situational depression, feelings of inadequacy or low self-esteem or both, and a tendency
toward substance abuse.
Gondolf (1988) performed a cluster analysis of battered
women's self reports (n=525). While the results raise questions about the validity
of women's assessments of their partners personalities, the following three types of
batterer personalities emerged from the analyses: antisocial, sociopathic, and typical.
The latter type is characteristic of the individual who regrets his behaviour and asks for
forgiveness (Walker, 1979). The other profiles are indicative of more serious abuse
in which there is no caring or remorse. Moreover, sociopathic abuse is also
characterized by a wide range of arrests related to crimes against property, violence of a
non-family nature, and alcohol-related crimes.
Kalichman (1988) examined male and female perpetrated domestic
homicides. As in Hale et al.'s (1988) study, MMPI scores were used to assess the
personality profiles of these offenders. Analysis of scale scores provided two
separate (although somewhat similar) profiles. For males convicted of domestic
homicide (n=19), the most distinguishing characteristic was a single elevation on the Pd
scale. High scores on this dimension are indicative of sociopathy depicted by pathological
lying and chronic difficulty with the law. Whereas both male and female murderers
(n=16) shared this personality characteristic in common, females scored significantly
higher than males on the Pa scale, a measure of paranoia. Moreover, female murderers were
also found to score low on the Mf scale signifying higher masculinity. Based on this
MMPI profile, Kalichman (1988) described these women as "presenting difficulties in
social relations while experiencing high levels of dependency in their relationships"
The research presented supports the inclusion of personality
measures in inquiries into family violence. Although the findings discussed in this
review have been predominantly based upon clinical samples made up of male batterers,
sufficient evidence has been provided to support the contention that abusers demonstrate
levels of pathology higher than those found in the general population (Hamberger &
Hastings, 1991). Nevertheless, while researchers have begun to recognize the need
for investigations directed at the influence of individual differences in the occurrence
of intimate relationships, current research is limited in a number of ways. A
discussion of some of those issues follows.
Prevailing sampling procedures provide the most obvious
example of a methodological restriction. Kalichman (1988) cautioned that differences
can even be found across what are thought to be comparable clinical samples. For
example, he noted that the subjects participating in his study may be more representative
of better adjusted inmates because of their willingness to co- operate. Likewise,
Hamberger and Hastings (1986) acknowledged that their sample of men arrested and ordered
to assessment was exemplary of those abusers who had been caught. Until comparisons
can be made across abusers groups, as well as with those found in the general population,
it is unlikely that results of studies can be extended beyond the sample in question.
The research reviewed suggests that as a group,
"batterers are heterogenous and fail to conform to a unified batterer profile"
(p. 143, Hamberger & Hastings, 1991). This view has received support from
Gondolf (1988), Hale et al. (1988), Straus et al. (1980), and Tolman and Bennett
(1990). The following represents a list of personality characteristics derived from
research presented: schizoid/borderline, narcissistic/antisocial, passive
dependent/compulsive, antisocial, sociopathic, anxiety prone, depressive, socially
nonconforming, neurotic as well as those describing individuals prone to substance abuse,
low self-esteem and high masculinity. The extensiveness of this list attests to
broad range of pathology associated with relationship violence and supports Hamberger and
Hasting's (1986) bid for a broad-based approach that will allow for the
"determination that abusers....exhibit not only a preponderance of personality
disorders, but several discrete 'types' " (p. 340).
The implications of personality factors in determining violent
outcomes are numerous. Personality disordered abusers present researchers, law
enforcement agencies, and service providers with a particularly difficult challenge.
The range of pathology within the abuser population tests the viability of programs
aimed at altering maladaptive family interactions.
Theories of Partner Abuse
As the number of empirical articles published in the area of
domestic violence have increased, the story of abuse between intimate partners has begun
to unfold. In an attempt to explain how and why abuse between intimates develops,
occurs and is sustained, researchers have relied upon theoretical frameworks to guide
Knight and Hatty (1987) noted that theories advanced by
various researchers could be dichotomized into those reflecting the orientations of
sociologists on one hand, and psychologists on the other hand. According to these
writers, sociological perspectives place the phenomenon of domestic violence within a
macro model of society, while psychologically oriented researchers account for violence
within a micro level of analysis.
Differences in the philosophical orientations of these
disciplines have resulted in an ongoing controversy with regard to which one provides the
most comprehensive accounting of abuse. From a sociological perspective, violence is
seen as an outgrowth of social factors as contrasted to psychological perspectives that
attribute violence to such intra-individual factors as aggressiveness, impulsiveness, and
paranoia (Straus, 1980). When assigning weight to the role of individual risk factors,
Straus (1980) suggested that psychological factors on the other hand,
".... account for only a minuscule proportion of the
violence which occurs in families ... at the outside ten percent. At least 90% of the
violence which takes place in American families grows out of the very nature of the family
and of the larger society, rather than out of individual aberrations" (p. 8, Straus,
The following discussion will review conceptual frameworks
reflecting the dichotomy in research orientations described above. In addition, current
theories that integrate the philosophies of both will also be presented. However, the
reader is cautioned that in light of the existing research bias that focuses on males as
perpetrators of intimate violence and females as their victims, the available theories of
domestic violence have been primarily advanced with this belief in mind.
Next: Chapter 2 Part 3