CRVAW Faculty Journal Articles


Does Context Matter in Determining Psychological Abuse? Effects of Pattern, Harm, Relationship, and Norms


This study explored contextual influences in determining whether psychologically aggressive actions constitute abuse. One hundred and thirty-one undergraduates completed measures of key experiences, attitudes, and traits, and rated abusiveness of behaviors in a series of vignettes. Vignettes varied contexts in which behaviors occurred, including whether the behavior was a pattern, whether there was harm to the recipient, characteristics of the initiator-recipient relationship, and whether behavior was normative. Results showed no effects for participants’ gender, past experiences with psychological aggression, and traits or attitudes. Findings indicated that behaviors were rated as more abusive when harm to the recipient was evident. Findings regarding patterns of behavior, relationship, and normative contexts were less consistent. Implications for measurement of psychological abuse are discussed.

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Published in Journal of Family Violence, v. 25, no. 5, p. 461-474.

The document available for download is the authors' post-peer-review final draft of the article.

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