Author ORCID Identifier

Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Communication and Information



First Advisor

Dr. Donald W. Helme


Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a social and behavioral health issue of importance among the young adult population (Cupp et al., 2015). IPV includes acts of physical violence, sexual violence, psychological aggression, and stalking enacted by an intimate partner (Smith, Zhang, Basile, Merrick, Wang, Kresnow, & Chen, 2018). In the United States., approximately one in three women and one in ten men experience IPV during their lifetime (Smith et al., 2018). Furthermore, over more than 70% of women who experience indicate that the first act occurred before the age of 25. One approach to preemptively address IPV on college campuses is through the implementation of bystander intervention campaigns and training. Although IPV can and does occur in private settings, approximately one-third of acts of IPV occur in the presence of individuals external to the couple, and these individuals have the opportunity to intervene (Planty, 2002). The overall objective of this dissertation study was two-fold: (a) examine college students’ attitudes, norms, and perceived behavioral control in the context of intervening in acts of IPV; and (b) assess college students’ intentions to intervene using different communicative strategies when presented with portrayals of IPV.

The study was conducted in two phases. Phase One comprised an online, primarily qualitative questionnaire including (a) a pilot-test of the vignettes depicting acts of IPV with a small subset of young adults attending a university; and (b) an elicitation questionnaire to gather readily accessible beliefs for behavioral outcomes, normative referents, and control factors as they relate to the behavior of bystander intervention. Phase Two included online survey data collection. First, participants completed measures assessing their beliefs about IPV and their attitudes, normative beliefs, perceived behavioral control, and intentions to intervene using different communication strategies as a bystander in the context of IPV. Second, participants were presented with one of six written vignettes portraying three different types of IPV enacted by either a male or female partner and asked to identify how they would respond when presented with the scenario using four different communication strategies to intervene: direct, distract, delegate, delay; and the option to do nothing to intervene.

The results of this dissertation evidence that bystander intervention is not a one-size-fits all approach in the context of IPV. The findings provide a basis to inform future messages for campaigns, interventions, and programmatic materials developed to improve young adult college students’ awareness and understanding of IPV and tools to help them become active bystanders. The data sheds light on theoretical mechanisms that may increase young adults’ intentions to intervene, the types of IPV for which young adult college students are most inclined to intervene, and what communication strategies students find to be most accessible when confronted with IPV as a bystander. This information is crucial because bystander intervention efforts should be continually adapted over time to more effectively influence their target audiences. This dissertation seeks to make interdisciplinary contributions, spanning the fields of health communication, health promotion, and violence prevention.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)