Gender Differences and Gender-Related Constructs in Dating Aggression

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    Personality and Social Psychology online version of this article can be found at:

    DOI: 10.1177/01461672022811009

    2002 28: 1106Pers Soc Psychol BullStephen S. Jenkins and Jennifer Aub

    Gender Differences and Gender-Related Constructs in Dating Aggression

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    Society for Personality and Social Psychology

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    Gender Differences and Gender-RelatedConstructs in Dating Aggression

    Stephen S. JenkinsJennifer AubUniversity of Rochester

    This study examined frequency and severity of physical, sym-bolic, and psychological aggression between college men andwomen in 85 heterosexual dating relationships and the extentto which gender role constructs predicted reports of aggression.Although there were no differences on self-reports of perpetration,men reported higher victimization levels than women and higherphysical and psychological victimization levels than perpetra-tion levels, whereas women reported higher symbolic perpetrationlevels than victimization levels. As a result, averaging reportsfrom both partners suggested that women in existing college dat-ing relationships are more aggressive than men. For both gen-ders, stereotypically negative masculine (i.e., instrumental)characteristics were the best predictors of aggressive acts. Perpe-trators positive masculinity and femininity predicted self-reports of decreased aggression that were not confirmed by theirpartners. Whereas mens traditional attitudes about the male rolepredicted greater male aggression, womens less traditional atti-tudes predicted increased severity of female physical aggression.

    As recent meta-analyses (Archer, 1999, 2000a) havedescribed, there is considerable theoretical disagree-ment about the origins, composition, and appropriatesampling method of aggression between romantic part-ners, each of which affects study findings of gender dif-ferences. Whereas clinical and law enforcement dataderived from female victims have shown predominantuse of violence by men (Dobash, Dobash, Wilson, & Daly,1992), studies (e.g., Arias & Johnson, 1989) based on theConflict Tactics Scales (CTS; Straus, 1979) and usingcommunity samples have typically found similar levelsof aggression between men and women. These latterfindings have, on one hand, raised concerns about thegender sensitivity of aggression research (Cascardi &Vivian, 1995) and, on the other hand, elevated interestin variables that might predict aggressive behavior betterthan gender alone (e.g., Thompson, 1991). Specifically,

    when examining gender differences in courtship aggres-sion, research has often overlooked or poorly definedgender-role processes. Other criticisms of past researchinclude its (a) predominant focus on frequency ofaggression, neglecting severity of aggression (e.g.,Cantos, Neidig, OLeary, 1994); (b) use of the CTS with-out additional measures of aggression (i.e., sexual, psy-chological) (e.g., Smith, 1994); and (c) sampling indi-vidual men and women for the purpose of aggregate-gender data rather than within-couple data (e.g.,Jouriles & OLeary, 1985). This study sought to addressthese concerns.

    Studies of Physical Aggression

    Aggression between partners in dating relationshipsoften has been defined operationally by sections of theCTS (Straus, 1979) that assess frequency of self-reportedphysically aggressive acts, including behaviors such askicking, slapping, and using a knife or gun.

    The literature on physical aggression between hetero-sexual dating partners is not consistent with research onsame-sex aggression that has shown that men are gener-ally more aggressive than women (e.g., Buss & Perry,1992). Rather, many studies have found similar propor-tions of men and women inflicting some form of court-ship aggression (Arias & Johnson, 1989; Carlson, 1987;Cate, Henton, Koval, Christopher, & Lloyd, 1982;Sigelman, Berry, & Wiles, 1984). Illustratively, White andKosss (1991) large national college survey found that

    Authors Note: This work is dedicated to the memory of Emory L.Cowen (1926-2000), who was instrumental in the preparation and en-couragement of this study. Correspondence concerning this articleshould be addressed to Stephen S. Jenkins, Department of Clinical andSocial Sciences in Psychology, Meliora Hall, University of Rochester,Rochester, NY 14627; e-mail:

    PSPB, Vol. 28 No. 8, August 2002 1106-1118 2002 by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Inc.


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  • 37% of men and 35% of women reported inflicting someform of physical aggression on a partner. In a study ofmarried, cohabiting, and dating couples, Stets andStraus (1989) found that the most frequent pattern incouples was for both partners to be aggressive, followedby female-only, with male-only aggression the least fre-quent. Indeed, several studies have found more womenthan men reporting aggression toward dating partners(OLeary et al., 1989; Riggs, OLeary, & Breslin, 1990;Sugarman & Hotaling, 1989). Taking these together,Archers (2000a) meta-analysis of aggression studiesdemonstrated an overall small effect size of d = .12 inthe direction of women when using self-reports of perpe-trating physical aggression.

    Another approach for comparing male and femaledating aggression has been to measure self-reports of vic-timization. Some studies have found that women reportvictim status in a conflict more often than men(Makepeace, 1986; Sugarman & Hotaling, 1989), andStets and Pirog-Good (1987) found that women reportmore aggressive victimization from their partners, con-sistent with mens report of perpetrating more aggres-sion than women. However, other studies have foundthat more college men than women report they were vic-tims of dating aggression (Arias, Samios, & OLeary,1987; White & Koss, 1991). Given the inconsistent find-ings to date, it is not surprising that Archer (2000a)found the average effect size across studies to be d = .016for differences in victimization rates, indicating a com-parable level of aggression received byand thereforepresumably perpetrated byeach gender within hetero-sexual relationships.

    Nonphysical Aggression: Psychological and Symbolic

    In the context of dating relationships, psychologicalaggression is defined as any nonphysical act intended tohurt ones partner and may include direct or indirect,verbal or nonverbal elements. Although psychologicalaggression has been identified as a precursor to physicalaggression (Hydn, 1995; Kasian & Painter, 1992;Murphy & OLeary, 1989), and in many cases its effectsmay be more severe and longer felt than those of physi-cal abuse alone (Walker, 1984), few studies have mea-sured both physical and psychological aggressiontogether (Archer, 2000b).

    In most cases where nonphysical aggression isassessed, these studies use a second CTS factor of sym-bolic aggression, measuring verbal and nonverbal actswhich symbolically hurt the other or the use of threatswhich hurt the other (Straus, 1992b, p. 32), includingitems such as insults, smashing items, and threats toharm. In the largest study of dating aggression using thismeasure, women reported inflicting significantly moreaggression than men, although both genders reported

    experiencing similar levels as victims (White & Koss,1991).

    Another method of assessing nonphysical aggressionis the Psychological Maltreatment Inventory (PMI),developed by Kasian and Painter (1992) to measure neg-ative relationship strategies, including isolation andemotional control, attacks on self-esteem, jealousy, ver-bal abuse, and withdrawal. Using a dating sample, Kasianand Painter (1992) found that men reported that theirpartner used fewer positive behaviors (e.g., respect) andmore negative behaviors compared to womens reportsof male partners (Kasian & Painter, 1992).

    Although there is some overlap between the items ofthe CTS symbolic subscale and PMI, namely around ver-bal abuse, there are several differences that warrant theuse of both measures of nonphysical aggression.Whereas the CTS alone includes threats of physicalharm and aggression against items that are substitutes,or symbols, of the partner, the PMI targets a wider vari-ety of manipulative and denigrating behaviors. In thecurrent study, both measures are used to assess non-phys-ical aggression. For clarity, the term symbolic aggression isused to refer specifically to CTS nonphysical aggressionitems and the term psychological aggression is used to referto the PMI items.

    Severity of Aggression

    Researchers are challenged to explain the unexpect-edly high levels of reported female aggression relative tomen in nonclinical populations (Riggs & OLeary,1989). On the surface, these findings contradict reportsthat women are more likely than men to experience vio-lence from partners, be hospitalized, or require batteredspouse services (Dobash et al., 1992; Walker, 1984,1989). One given explanation is that greater malestrength and size results in greater physical injury forfemale than male victims (OLeary et al., 1989; Straus,1992a; Walker, 1989), but because the CTS did not mea-sure injury or severity, researchers can mistakenly equatetwo very different acts of aggression. For example, wiveshave reported more negative consequences than hus-bands even when aggression frequency was similar(Cantos et al., 1994; Vivian & Langhinrichsen-Rohling,1994). Langhinrichsen-Rohling, Neidig, and Thorn(1995) found that although 83% of married couples intreatment were mutually aggressive, men were morelikely than women to use extreme forms of violence andless likely either to incur injury or to report fear frompartner aggression. Makepeace (1986) found that mod-erate to severe injuries were 4 times higher for womenthan men. Finally, Archers (2000a) meta-analysis foundthat in contrast to low frequency differences betweengenders, injuries were inflicted more by men thanwomen; the values were d = .54 for samples treated for

    Jenkins, Aub / GENDER AND AGGRESSION 1107

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  • marriage problems, d = .13 for students, and d = .11 forthe general community. These findings suggest thatalthough gender differences may not be detected in fre-quency of acts, men may inflict more serious injuriesthan women through such acts.

    Although Straus, Hamby, Boney-McCoy, andSugarman (1996) have recently published a revised setof scales (CTS2) with provision for measuring injuries,the present study chose to measure perceptions of theseverity of acts of aggression rather than outright inju-ries. This step allows for comparing severity as a variableacross various forms of aggression, including psychologi-cal acts, which are not expected to result in observablewounds or hospitalization. Furthermore, given the lowfrequency of physical injury in samples age 14 to 22(Archer, 2000a), which encompasses this studys sample,emphasis on perceived consequences appears moreappropriate.

    Surveying Couples

    Whereas marriage studies frequently involve bothpartners in surveys, dating aggression studies tend toreport lone respondents of current or former relation-ships (Archer, 2000a). This method is problematicbecause individuals are less likely to report themselves asperpetrators than victims of aggression (Archer, 1999;Makepeace, 1981; Moffitt et al., 1997), even when ques-tionnaires are anonymous (Riggs, Murphy, & OLeary,1989). Thus, rather than using a single partnersresponses, some researchers have suggested surveyingboth partners (e.g., Margolin, 1987; Moffitt et al., 1997;Szinovacz, 1983) and averaging response rates (Barling,OLeary, Jouriles, Vivian, & MacEwen, 1987). A recentmeta-analysis of aggression studies (Archer, 1999) hasshown that studies with couples exhibit less systematicunderreporting, particularly among men, than thosewith individuals, indicating that the responses of cou-pleswho know their partners are being assessed in aseparate roomare more frank and accurate than thoseof lone respondents. In the current study, self-report ofperpetrated aggression, self-report of victimization, andcouple-averaged scores using the mean between onepartners perpetration score and the other partners vic-timization score, are each presented as methods ofassessing aggression between dating partners.

    Gender-Related Constructs and Aggression

    Gender-related constructs, such as characteristics andideology traditionally attached to one or the other gen-der, may be important in understanding aggression inmen and women (Burke, Stets, & Pirog-Good, 1989;Spence, Losoff, & Robbins, 1991), perhaps more impor-tant than gender itself (Thompson, 1991). These con-structs are relatively stable and a strong source of motiva-

    tion leading people to behave in ways consistent withtheir gender identities (Burke et al., 1989). Priorresearch with gender-related constructs has been guidedby social role theory (Eagly & Steffen, 1986), particularlythe suggestion that aggression is dictated by culturalnorms surrounding gender relations. Eagly and Steffen(1986) contended that whereas the male gender roleincludes norms encouraging many forms of aggres-sion . . . the traditional female gender role places littleemphasis on aggressiveness (p. 310). Thus, to theextent that individuals adhere to traditional masculinity,they are more likely to engage in aggressive behavior.Research on the relationship between gender-relatedconstructs and dating aggression has, however, pro-duced few consistent findings. One source of disparatefindings about the role of gender-related constructs inaggressive behavior is inconsistency in conceptualizingand measuring these constructs.

    The gender literature has had two primary foci: ge...


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