Date of Award

Summer 2011

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Clinical Psychology

First Advisor

John H. Grych

Second Advisor

Ed de St. Aubin

Third Advisor

Astrida Kaugars

Abstract

There is a clear connection between exposure to interparental aggression and children's own future episodes of violent behavior. What is significantly less understood is why this pattern develops. The current study used quantitative and semi-structured methods to identify factors that shape children's understanding of intimate partner violence. Understanding violence was defined as including causal knowledge (Why does violence occur?) and beliefs about the acceptability of intimate partner violence. Factors proposed to predict children's causal attributions included mothers' perceived causes of interparental aggression and exposure to different forms of violence, including interparental, parent-child, and neighborhood aggression. Perceived causes of intimate partner violence, mothers' beliefs about the acceptability of this type of violence, and children's empathy and perspective taking skills were expected to predict children's beliefs about the acceptability of intimate partner violence. Mothers' acceptability beliefs also were expected to moderate the relationship between exposure to violence and children's own acceptability beliefs. Results suggested that mothers' and children's causal attributions were not related and that violence exposure did not predict their causal understanding of intimate partner violence. When children perceived aggression to be committed in self-defense, they found it more acceptable. Few direct relationships were found between violence exposure and children's acceptability beliefs; however, mothers' beliefs about aggression significantly moderated these relationships. Findings highlight the importance of context in shaping children's understanding of intimate partner violence.

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