Entries in aggression (9)


Romantic Relationship Aggression - It Looks Different Than You May Think

When many people think of relationship aggression they stereotypically think of men hitting women, like the much publicized videotape of ex-NFL player Ray Rice knocking out his then fiancée, Janay, in an elevator in 2014. Observable forms of aggression such as this have helped shape our society's view of relationship aggression as being limited to physical violence primarily performed by men against women.

Since the majority of research on conflict and aggression in relationships has focused on the overt and observable forms of aggression, we know very little about the less visible forms of relationship conflict.1 Although boys are typically more physically aggressive than girls, what researchers have been discovering is that girls perform more non-physical forms of relationship aggression, like spreading negative rumors about their partner or excluding them from social circles.

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An Unexpected Key To Kids’ Popularity

To better understand what makes kids popular, researchers measured 144 3rd through 8th grade students’ prosocial behaviors (i.e., doing good things for others) and physical/verbal aggression. As you’d expect, kids nominated as popular were more likely to exhibit prosocial behaviors. But, unexpectedly, the popular kids were also more aggressive. Even kids who displayed high levels of verbal and physical aggression (e.g., mean name-calling, pushing/shoving) were popular if they also engaged in prosocial behaviors. Finally, being nice to others was more beneficial for girls’ popularity than boys. As much as a parent doesn’t want their child to be aggressive, it apparently has some upside.

Kornbluh, M., & Neal, J. W. (2014). Examining the many dimensions of children’s popularity: Interactions between aggression, prosocial behaviors, and gender. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. doi: 0.1177/0265407514562562


Southern Charm and the Culture of Honor: Southerners Are Sugar and Spice Until They Feel Insulted

Because my writing niche is connecting relationship science to pop-culture, I often find links between what I teach and what I watch. However, as a southerner, I have been particularly intrigued by Bravo’s reality TV show, Southern Charm. This past season, I eagerly awaited the weekly opportunity to revel in the salacious bed-hopping and bourbon-swilling of these Charleston socialites. For fans of the show, you know that the characters often try to behave in refined ways that demonstrate their good manners. Nonetheless, this etiquette generally gives way to the debauchery for which we watch the show. As this homage to social propriety seemed somewhat unique from other reality TV shows (such as Jersey Shore), I couldn’t help but wonder if this curious behavior was tied to the cultural norms and southern traditions of the characters’ upbringing.

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The Dark Side of Oxytocin

Oxytocin is a hormone that promotes bonding during the early stages of relationship development, positive feelings toward relationship partners1, including feelings of trust.2  In fact, oxytocin has been implicated in a variety of positive relationship behaviors, including attachment, social memory, sexual behavior, and orgasm, as well as maternal caring and bonding behaviors.3 As a result, the media often refers to oxytocin as the “cuddle hormone.” However, recent research suggests that the so-called “cuddle hormone” may have a dark side by increasing relationship violence.

How They Did It

Researchers randomly assigned 93 undergraduate students to receive a nasal spray containing either (a) oxytocin or (b) a saline solution (i.e., a placebo spray). Importantly, the administration of the spray was double-blind; neither the researcher nor the participant knew which spray the participant was receiving.  Following the spray, researchers provoked participants in an attempt to raise stress levels and establish a context for aggression. The provocations involved giving a brief speech to an audience who disagreed with the speech and experiencing a “cold pressor task” in which extreme cold is applied to the participant’s forehead (resulting in moderate physical pain).  Participants then completed a measure of trait aggression (i.e., how much the person is naturally inclined toward aggression) as well as a measure of how likely individuals were to be aggressive toward their partners that asked about the likelihood of engaging in several behaviors toward their romantic partners (e.g., throwing things, twisting their arm/hair, shoving). 

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Feelings Of Insecurity Prompt Fantasies Of Emotionless Sex And Aggression

A new set of studies reveals that the content of our sexual fantasies is influenced by feelings of relationship insecurity. In three experiments, college undergraduates were primed to feel attachment security or anxiety. To do this, participants thought about a past relationship in which they felt secure or anxious (Study 1), or they viewed a photo of a mother either gazing at her child (security) or turning her back on her child (anxiety; Studies 2 and 3). Afterward, participants were asked to report on one of their current sexual fantasies. The anxiety prime produced fantasies in which individuals viewed themselves as more distant from and hostile toward their partners compared to the fantasies described following the security prime. More specifically, the anxiety prime was linked to fantasies that involved sex without emotion or romance, as well as fantasies that involved themes of aggression. These findings suggest that when we feel insecure about our relationships, we subconsciously alter the content of our sexual fantasies as a way of protecting the self from further feelings of rejection.  In other words, when we are feeling insecure, we may use our fantasies to create a psychological barrier between ourselves and our partners in order to protect our self-esteem.

To learn more about the details of this study, check out this article on The Psychology of Human Sexuality.

Birnbaum, G. E., Simpson, J. A., Weisberg, Y. J., Barnea, E., & Assulin-Simhon, Z. (in press). Is it my overactive imagination? The effects of contextually activated attachment insecurity on sexual fantasies. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.


Two’s Company. But Is It Necessarily Bad Company?

Last week we were fortunate to publish a post on cohabitation guest-authored by two of the foremost experts on the topic. Their research addresses one of the more controversial and hotly-debated patterns of findings in the relationship science world: the marriages of couples that live together (cohabit) before tying the knot often fare worse than the marriages of couples that do not cohabit prior to marrying (commonly referred to as “the cohabitation effect”). There are a number of possible explanations for this effect, (and remember, correlation does not equal causation), but the purpose of this follow-up post is not to dig into those explanations (for now). Rather, I want to put the authors’ key conclusion in context for all those who might be second-guessing their decision to shack up after reading this post.

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Another Reason to Avoid Narcissists

image source: squidoo.comJust in case you need another reason to avoid dating narcissists: In a sample of nearly 300 men, those scoring high on narcissism, high on psychopathy (e.g., irresponsibility, low empathy, antisocial behavior), and with an unrestricted sociosexual orientation (e.g., the belief that love and sex are separate) were three times as likely (45%) to report engaging in sexual aggression (e.g., sexual assault and rape) compared to those low on these three traits (15%).

Mouilso, E. R., & Calhoun, K. S. (2011). A mediation model of the role of sociosexuality in the associations between narcissism, psychopathy, and sexual aggression. Psychology of Violence, 2, 16-27.


Too Sexy for Your Peers: Women’s Indirect Aggression Towards Other Women

New research suggests that women who wear sexy clothing and show cleavage alienate other women. While waiting to participate in what they thought was a study of conflict, pairs of women witnessed an attractive woman in sexy clothing enter the room and talk to a research assistant about setting up the cameras. The researchers recorded responses of the women in the waiting area during the provocatively dressed woman’s presence and after she left the room. The women in the waiting room rolled their eyes, looked at the provocatively dressed woman in disgust, made negative and mocking comments, and laughed at her when she left the room. Apparently this sexy woman was quite threatening. When the same woman entered the room in khakis and a crew neck t-shirt (i.e., not provocatively dressed), the women barely even noticed her!

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One Tough Mutha: Lactation Facilitates Moms’ Aggressive Behavior 

If there’s one thing I learned from the old Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, it’s that mothers don’t look too kindly on people messing around with their babies. Across many non-human species, lactating moms’ maternal aggression has been well-documented. The general thinking is that because most young mammals are particularly vulnerable during the developmental period that coincides with lactation, nursing moms are capable of uncharacteristic levels of aggression if that’s what it takes to protect their youngins’. Interestingly, there’s been very little research to determine whether human moms are more likely to go all “Wild Kingdom” when lactating. Until now.

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