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Personality And Domestic Violence

August 2010 - Research led by the University of British Columbia published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology found similar personality traits in male and female perpetrators of domestic violence in a group of psychiatric patients and suggests that further study may extend this to the wider community.

Lead author Zach Walsh, assistant professor of psychology, explained:

"Although both men and women engage in substantial levels of domestic violence, fewer studies have examined female perpetrators. These new findings are among the first to highlight similarities between subtypes of domestically violent men and women."

The researchers explain that previous studies of domestic violence have tended to focus on male perpetrators, categorising them into three main subtypes:

  • antisocial - often violent outside the relationship and with high levels of psychopathic personality traits
  • dysphoric - associated with high levels of anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses
  • low pathology - generally normal personalities, rarely violent except in intimate relationships

Researchers drew on data from the MacArthur Violence Risk Assessment Study to analyse normal personality, psychopathic characteristics, and mental illness among 567 psychiatric patients, including 138 women and 93 men with histories of domestic violence. Researchers explain that psychiatric patients are responsible for higher levels of domestic violence than the wider community. While cautioning against generalisation, results indicate that the three subtypes may be applicable to perpetrators outside psychiatric settings. Significantly, the study also found that female perpetrators demonstrate similar characteristics to their male counterparts.

Zach Walsh said:

"Intimate partner violence is a major public health concern. Examining subtypes of perpetrators is an important way of learning more about why people are violent in close relationships. Understanding why different people are violent may be crucial for developing new ways to reduce violence in relationships. "

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