Social Influences on the Long-term Cessation of Violent Behaviors

In spite of increased interest in how individuals modify their behaviors in ways that promote health, little prior research has examined the process of moving away from the use of violence within intimate relationships. Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a leading cause of injury, particularly in young adult populations, and is associated with declines in emotional well-being. Despite the importance of the topic, there are few prior studies of how to decrease IPV. Those studies have been short-term and their explicit links to treatment programs has generally been limited to the emphases of these programs. The current study will provide a perspective on continuity and change in the experience of IPV over the different stages of life, and investigate the role of social experiences as influences on what causes changes in these types of behaviors. Most theories of change highlight the importance of the individual's own motivation and receptivity as key components of the change process. Unlike those studies, this study's focus on potentially malleable social factors will provide new insights about specific social and environmental influences that serve as catalysts for behavioral changes. Knowledge about these linkages has the potential to inform the design of more effective prevention and intervention efforts targeting this serious public health problem.

Using a life-course perspective, the study will build on a five-wave longitudinal investigation of a large, diverse sample of young men and women interviewed first as adolescents, and later as they have navigated the transition to adulthood (Toledo Adolescent Relationships Study). At each interview, information was collected about IPV perpetration, as well as about family, peer, romantic partner and neighborhood experiences and influences. The research will follow-up for an additional assessment all those respondents who reported using violence within the context of an intimate relationship during the course of the study (n=403). Specific objectives are to: a) document patterns of persistence and "desistance" of these behaviors, b) investigate the underlying mechanisms associated with the process of making and sustaining positive changes, and c) identify social and individual factors that distinguish desisters and those who continue this negative pattern within their relationships. The relatively long time gap between assessments (5 years) will permit an examination of sustained behavior change, as distinguished from the relatively common phenomenon of temporary lulls. In addition to the online structured data collection effort, the researchers will complete in-depth qualitative interviews with a subset of male and female respondents who vary in the character of their experiences with violence (n=85). This mixed method approach will permit a comprehensive examination of the complex interplay of social experiences and individual-level subjective changes as factors associated with the successful cessation of this form of interpersonal violence. This research contributes to scholarship about desistance from crime and contributes to the design of more effective programs to prevent and intervene in intimate partner violence.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES)
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Marie Cornwall
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Bowling Green State University
Bowling Green
United States
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