New University of Houston research focuses on treatment for perpetrator, not victim

July 31, 2012

A new UH experiment takes an unconventional look at the treatment for domestic violence, otherwise known as intimate partner violence (IPV), by focusing on changing the perpetrators' psychological abuse during arguments rather than addressing his sexist beliefs.

"There is a lot of research that studies the victim of intimate partner violence, but not the perpetrator," said Julia Babcock, department of psychology and co-director of the Center for Couples Therapy, a clinical research center at UH that offers therapy for couples. "The predominant model for IPV intervention is based on what was gleaned from women in battered women shelters and focuses on men's patriarchal attitudes about power and control. Since most occurs in the context of an argument, the experiment I conducted evaluated whether I could change how the communication goes during an argument with the batterer and his partner. The findings indicated the batterers could learn communications skills and when they applied them in an argument with their , the argument improved and the participants felt better about the argument and more understood."

Babcock notes this research is significant in that it breaks new ground in applying experiments to domestic violence and may improve batterers' intervention programs. In a review of the research studies on the efficacy of batterers' intervention programs, Babcock found the results disappointing. There was a small change when a completed a batterers intervention program and only a 5 percent reduction rate in repeat offenses. "There is definitely a need to improve batterers' intervention programs, since research suggests that they're largely ineffective, but frequently prescribed by courts as a remedy for convicted IPV perpetrators," said Babcock. Babcock's research focuses on male batterers because men are the perpetrators in about 85 percent of the abuse cases, and women are 10 times more likely to be murdered by an intimate than are men.

By listing an advertisement in local papers that said, "couples experiencing conflict," the research team recruited 120 couples in the Houston area qualified for the experiment. Candidates for the study were screened over the telephone to make sure they met criteria. To meet the criteria to participate in the study, two acts of violence had to occur in the last year that might include: pushing, shoving, choking, using a weapon or a beating. If there was no physical abuse, but the couple scored low for marital satisfaction, Babcock included them as a comparison group.

The couples were then invited to participate in an experiment in the "Emotions in Marriage Lab," where the research team observed a couple in a 15-minute argument. Both male and female partner were connected to monitors to measure heart rate, respiration, skin conductance, movement, pulse, transit time of blood flow from the periphery to the heart, skin temperature while affect (such as anger, contempt, fear, disgust, etc.) was noted. Midway during the 15-minute argument, the researchers interrupted the argument at 7½ minutes and randomly assigned the male batterer to one of three conditions: 1) a time out; 2) a request to edit out the negative, where he makes the same points in a more neutral fashion; or, 3) a request to accept influence, where he listens to the female's ideas, trusts that the partner may be right and validates her idea even if his idea is different. The male batterer was taught these communication skills then asked to use them in the second half of the argument.

"What we found is that the interventions worked to make the second half of the argument better," said Babcock. "Batterers could learn these communication skills and when they applied them in arguments with their female partner, it decreased aggressive attacks on the female partner, contemptuous behavior, criticism and put downs in both the woman and the man. The idea is that reducing such may reduce . Whereas most therapies are built top down from theory, the new technology allows us to build a therapy package--technique by technique--from the lab up."

Explore further: Male victims of 'intimate terrorism' can experience damaging psychological effects

Related Stories

Male victims of 'intimate terrorism' can experience damaging psychological effects

April 7, 2011
Men who are abused by their female partners can suffer significant psychological trauma, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and suicidal thoughts, according to two new papers published by the American Psychological ...

Study suggests link between childhood bullying and adult intimate partner violence perpetration

June 6, 2011
Men who report having bullied peers in childhood appear to have an increased risk of perpetrating violence against an intimate partner in adulthood, according to a report posted online today by the Archives of Pediatrics ...

Recommended for you

Researchers link epigenetic aging to bipolar disorder

December 12, 2017
Bipolar disorder may involve accelerated epigenetic aging, which could explain why persons with the disorder are more likely to have - and die from - age-related diseases, according to researchers from The University of Texas ...

Researchers find common psychological traits in group of Italians aged 90 to 101

December 12, 2017
In remote Italian villages nestled between the Mediterranean Sea and mountains lives a group of several hundred citizens over the age of 90. Researchers at the University of Rome La Sapienza and University of California San ...

New therapy can help schizophrenia sufferers re-engage socially

December 11, 2017
A new therapy aimed at helping young people suffering from schizophrenia to reconnect and engage with the world around them has had promising results, according to a new University of Sussex-led study.

Certain books can increase infant learning during shared reading, study shows

December 11, 2017
Parents and pediatricians know that reading to infants is a good thing, but new research shows reading books that clearly name and label people and objects is even better.

Twitter can reveal our shared mood

December 11, 2017
In the largest study of its kind, researchers from the University of Bristol have analysed mood indicators in text from 800 million anonymous messages posted on Twitter. These tweets were found to reflect strong patterns ...

Infant brain responses predict reading speed in secondary school

December 11, 2017
A study conducted at the Department of Psychology at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland and Jyväskylä Centre for Interdisciplinary Brain Research (CIBR) has found that the brain responses of infants with an inherited ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.