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Deciding to be Violent: The Perceived Utility of Abusive Behavior in Marriage

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Technical Report

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Uniformed Services University Of The Health Sciences Bethesda United States

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Over the past three decades, spouse abuse has increasingly been recognized as a problem. Treatment programs include social skills training as a major component based on the assumption that violent men have social skills deficits. However, little empirical evidence supports this assumption. McFalls 1982 Social Information Processing Model SIP provides a framework to examine skill deficits in the areas of perception, decision-making and behavioral enactment. Abusive men are generally able to endorse nonviolent behavioral responses. Despite this recognition, they continue to use violence when angry. The Purpose of this study was to investigate this incongruity by examining the decision making patterns of angered and non-angered abusive men in a laboratory setting. Using Multi-Attribute Utility Theory, a decision making model, the utility of abusive and non-abusive behaviors were compared among 32 mildly physically abusive men, 32 martially distressed, non-abusive men, and 32 non-distressed, non-abusive men. All subjects were randomly assigned to an anger induction or neutral induction condition. As predicted, the utility for abusive behavior was greater for angry abusive men. A need to be in control appeared to significantly contribute to this difference. In addition, compared to all other groups the angry abusive subjects expected abusive and manipulative behaviors would be more likely to fix problems and would minimally impact their partners self-image. Healthy behaviors were expected to have lower utilities comparing the abusers to other groups and comparing the angered to the non-angered abusers. However, for all subjects the utilities of healthy behaviors e.g., compare think your position were greatest. In part, this may be explained by the abusers perception that they were less able to perform the healthy behaviors. That is, the behaviors may be beneficial but they are not in an abusers repertoire.

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