Aggression in dating relationships is common and has significant medical, behavioral, and social consequences for individuals and society. An aggressive family environment increases future risk for dating aggression, but many at-risk individuals do not continue aggressive patterns into the next generation. The psychosocial and psychobiological mechanisms underlying dating aggression and factors that predict discontinuity from familial aggression to dating aggression in young adulthood are poorly understood. The proposed study aims to discover both risk and protective factors that affect the intergenerational continuity of aggression from family relationships during adolescence into dating relationships in young adulthood. Multiple levels of inquiry (behavioral, physiological, emotional, and vocal) will be applied to ecologically valid discussions of emotionally charged topics between dating partners. The study will measure stress reactivity through Autonomic Nervous System [ANS] and Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenocortical [HPA] axis activation, through indices of vocal arousal, and through behavioral and emotional deregulation as displayed in hostile or withdrawing behaviors. These forms of reactivity are hypothesized to exacerbate risk for dating aggression. The study also investigates whether compassion (measured through observed displays of empathy and attunement, physiological and vocal co regulation, oxytocin as a biomarker, and self- and partner-reports) is a mitigating factor. Young adulthood is targeted as a critical developmental window-still influenced by previous family relationships but also distinguished by opportunities for change. This study builds on a prospective, multi-wave study involving one member of the dating couple and her or his parents. Data collected during the prior study provide multiple assessments of cumulative family violence across adolescence and also allow for comparison between previously recorded family interactions and the proposed dating couple interactions. The current study draws upon a variety of innovative and exploratory measures across physiological, vocal and observational systems to evaluate the role of stress reactivity and compassion in the intergenerational continuity of aggression. The data will be analyzed using multilevel, multivariate, longitudinal analytic strategies that reflect the multiple forms of dependency in the couple and family data. This study also breaks new conceptual ground on dating aggression by advancing knowledge of individual and interpersonal mechanisms that are exhibited in 'real-life'emotionally-charged dating partner discussions and post-discussion recovery. In line with preventive science, these multi-method, longitudinal, conceptually driven, and data-rich approaches to dating partners'discussions are intended to reveal malleable, clinically relevant factors linked with risk and resilience for dating aggression and critical to the design of preventive interventions.

Public Health Relevance

Aggression in dating relationships is prevalent among young adults and has important consequences for individuals, families, and society. With multiple mental and physical health risks associated with dating violence, the focus on young adult dating aggression represents a unique opportunity to combat violence from a public health perspective. There is a vital need to interrupt the continuance of aggression across generations and young adulthood provides a window to discover mechanisms linking aggression in early family relationships to aggression in later adult relationships. The proposed research will provide important information about risks for dating aggression and will identify factors that can be used in future preventive interventions for reducing dating aggression.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Exploratory/Developmental Grants (R21)
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Psychosocial Development, Risk and Prevention Study Section (PDRP)
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Maholmes, Valerie
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University of Southern California
Schools of Arts and Sciences
Los Angeles
United States
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