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Control and Intimate Partner Aggression

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posted on 2021-08-08, 23:15 authored by Fiona Dempsey

Control is fundamental to theoretical conceptualizations of intimate partner aggression (IPA). In particular, it has been instrumental in the development of typologies of IPA, where control has been associated with more frequent and serious IPA carried out by men against women. Consequently, the concept of control has heavily influenced the design of treatment and legislation targeting partner violence. However, there is considerable theoretical divergence as to how control should be conceptualized, operationalized, and measured. This thesis comprises a series of studies designed to test the validity of some of the key theoretical assumptions that inform the common conceptualizations of control by examining control as a behavior, as a motivation, and as an outcome. Chapter 1 provides an overview of the thesis rationale and objectives. Chapter 2 investigated the theoretical assumption that non-physical ‘controlling behaviors’ (e.g., restricting access to money; threatening harm) comprise a unique form of IPA. Exploratory (N = 561) and confirmatory (N = 424) factor analyses on 54 measures used across the IPA literature identified three forms of aggression: Eclectic Aggression, Direct Psychological Aggression, Monitoring Acts. There was no evidence for a distinct form of ‘controlling behaviors’. Chapter 3 systematically reviewed the literature on motivations for physical and psychological IPA. The review aimed to appraise the quality of the literature and ascertain which motivations had the largest effect sizes. A meta-analysis of the motivations for physical IPA suggested self-defense, retaliation for emotional hurt, and communication difficulties had larger effect sizes than control. Chapter 4 investigated the assumptions that control motivations are associated with more severe and frequent IPA and IPA perpetrated by men. Categorical principal and latent class analyses (N = 1166) found considerable heterogeneity in motivations for IPA for both genders, but no evidence of distinct patterns or profiles of controlling motivations for either men or women. Chapter 5 investigated the assumptions that coercive control is experienced exclusively by women and is related to experiencing specific types and more frequent IPA (N = 1174). Evidence did not support a “coercive control” pattern or profile in people who experienced IPA, or that coercive control outcomes were gendered, or associated with the type or the frequency of IPA behaviors used. Regressing the item-average of coercive control outcomes on experiences of IPA in a path analysis provided some evidence that gender and experiences of physical and psychological aggression predicted feelings of coercive control. Collectively, the results of the thesis identified considerable heterogeneity in the patterns of behaviors, motivations and outcomes for IPA. The evidence challenges existing conceptualizations of control as a distinct and gendered construct and indicates the need for the development of a theoretical explanation of control, that is both gender-inclusive and multi-factorial, to guide future research.


Advisor 1

Dixon, Louise

Advisor 2

Hammond, Matthew D

Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Forensic Psychology

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Psychology