Day-to-day moderators of the link between attachment insecurity and intimate partner violence in emerging adulthood: a daily diary study




Gou, Lisa

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Emerging adulthood (ages 18-25 years) is a developmental period marked by changes in attachment, the onset of serious dating relationships, and rates of intimate partner violence (IPV) up to 40% and 90% for physical and psychological IPV, respectively. This dissertation aims to investigate moderators of the link between insecure attachment, a known risk factor for IPV, and psychological IPV, coercive controlling behaviours, and relational aggression in emerging adulthood. One hundred and seventeen undergraduate students in dating relationships were recruited to partake in a baseline assessment followed by a 14-day daily diary study. During the baseline assessment, participants self-reported on putative trait level risk factors such as demographics and insecure attachment. During the daily diary portion, participants reported on their use of partner aggression (physical and psychological IPV, coercive controlling behaviours, and relational aggression; however, due to low base rates, physical IPV could not be analyzed as an outcome), as well as their experiences of felt partner acceptance and rejection, support and conflict in their relationships, alcohol use, and stress for each day. I hypothesized that attachment anxiety, problems in the dyadic relationship (inadequate support, conflict, and felt rejection and anxiety about acceptance), and putative disinhibitors (stress and alcohol consumption) would be directly linked to risk for perpetration of all forms of aggression and interact to predict risk for partner aggression. Hypotheses regarding partner support, conflict, and felt regard were also tested. Specifically, I hypothesized that ratings of partner support fit, hurt as a result of conflict, and daily felt regard would differ for more insecurely attached versus more securely attached individuals. Following application of exclusion criteria, data from 98 participants were analyzed using multilevel modeling in Hierarchical Linear Modeling (Raudenbush et al., 1995). The results from this dissertation underscore the importance of attachment anxiety as an individual risk factor for IPV and identified more proximal risk factors that fluctuate on a daily basis. Attachment anxiety, felt rejection, and conflict were related to risk for all three forms of IPV. Unexpectedly, attachment avoidance was linked to decreased risk for coercive control. Anxiety about acceptance was uniquely associated with risk for psychological IPV, and inadequate support fit was uniquely associated with risk for coercive control. Greater attachment anxiety interacted with high conflict to predict greater risk for coercive control. No other significant two-way interactions between attachment anxiety and problems in the dyadic relationship emerged. Contrary to hypotheses, stress and alcohol consumption were linked to decreased risk for coercive control. Stress also appeared to suppress the link between dyadic problems and risk for psychological IPV on a given day, and dyadic problems paired with alcohol consumption was related to a decreased risk of coercive control. High stress and greater dyadic problems interacted to predict greater risk for coercive control as expected. No conclusions could be drawn about 2-way interactions between stress and dyadic problems and alcohol consumption and dyadic problems when predicting relational aggression, as the model did not converge. This study did not find support for the “perfect storm theory” of aggression (in which a 3-way interaction between risk factors is associated with greatest risk of IPV) when predicting psychological IPV. The “perfect storm theory” could not be tested in relation to coercive control and relational aggression as these models did not converge. The findings from this study contribute to our knowledge of why some people perpetrate IPV and not others, and why people perpetrate IPV on some days and not others. These results inform the multiple possible points of entry for prevention and interventions aiming to promote healthy relationships in emerging adults.



Intimate partner violence, Emerging adulthood, Daily diary, Adult romantic attachment