Intimate partner aggression is a prevalent and significant public health issue, affecting large numbers of women and men and contributing to poor health, injury, stress, and divorce. Most research has used survey methodology to identify who is likely to aggress (e.g., heavy drinkers, people low in trait self-control). However, little research has considered the temporal risk factors that contribute to the occurrence - or avoidance - of an aggressive event. The present application considers the impact of two time-varying factors - self-control strength and alcohol use - on the occurrence of intimate partner aggression, using real-time, experience sampling within couples. Recent theories of aggression have emphasized the importance of self-control in accommodating, resisting, and restraining expression of anger and aggression when feeling provoked by one's partner (Finkel et al., 2012). However, self-control strength is a limited resource that can be depleted with exertion (Muraven & Baumeister, 2000). We hypothesize that when self-control is depleted, participants will be less able to exert self-control when experiencing a subsequent provocation or conflict with their partner, increasing the likelihood of partner aggression. Alcohol consumption also impairs the ability to inhibit responses and has been shown to increase the likelihood of subsequent partner aggression (Testa & Derrick, 2013). Self-control strength and alcohol use may interact to influence subsequent display (or restraint) of aggression; however, these constructs have not been considered together. This innovative study will examine the temporal effects of fluctuations in self-control strength and alcohol use on partner aggression within couples' daily lives using ecological momentary assessment (EMA). Married and cohabiting couples (N = 200) who drink alcohol regularly and have experienced some prior relationship aggression will be recruited from the community. Using smartphones, partners will make independent reports up to 5 times per day, for 30 days, including responses to random prompts, daily bedtime reports, and event-triggered reports of events involving anger, conflict, or aggression. We hypothesize that partner aggression is more likely to occur when partners are experiencing self-control depletion, and following consumption of alcohol by one or both partners. Using dyadic, multilevel modeling, hypotheses will be tested within the Actor Partner Interdependence Model (APIM), allowing us to examine the independent and interactive effects of each partner's self-control strength and alcohol use on subsequent partner conflict, aggression, and couple functioning. Findings have implications for understanding temporal factors that contribute to partner aggression and have potential significance for developing interventions to reduce its occurrence by addressing these mutable factors.

Public Health Relevance

Despite the high prevalence of partner violence and its negative consequences for public health, existing treatment programs have been limited in their ability to reduce partner aggression, underscoring the need for new approaches. Improved understanding of the role of fluctuating levels of self-control and alcohol use in daily episodes o partner aggression may lead to the development of novel interventions to prevent intimate partner aggression.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
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Psychosocial Development, Risk and Prevention Study Section (PDRP)
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Freeman, Robert
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State University of New York at Buffalo
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United States
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