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American Psychological Association

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Psychology of Violence

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Objective: We examine how instructions to exclude behaviors occurring in playful or joking contexts influence the measurement of physical partner violence victimization. Specifically, we demonstrate how such instructions influence the prevalence and validity of self-reported victimization. Method: Study 1 used a Think Aloud procedure to evaluate thoughts of college students (n = 451) reporting victimization experiences that occurred during high school. Participants were randomized to report on physical partner violence victimization with or without instructions to exclude playful acts. Study 2 experimentally evaluated whether the instructions affect the criterion validity of victimization scores with measures of depressive symptoms and emotion regulation among first-year college students (n = 615). Study 3 sought to replicate findings from Study 2 in a community sample of 18–25-year-olds (n = 398), using alternative violence items, response formats, and a different recall period. Study 4 utilized a short-term longitudinal design to replicate the pattern of findings from Studies 2 and 3, and examine how instructions influence self-reports of revictimization over a 2-month follow-up among first-year college students (n = 887). Study 5 presents a single-paper meta-analysis that synthesizes prevalence rates across these four studies. Results: Overall, instructions designed to eliminate aggressive acts in joking contexts did not consistently influence prevalence rates of victimization or improve criterion validity over standard instructions. Conclusions: Instructions designed to exclude behaviors occurring in playful or joking contexts do not necessarily produce more valid self-reports of physical partner violence victimization, as compared with standard instructions.


Accepted version. Psychology of Violence, Vol. 10, No. 2 (2020): 152-161. DOI. © 2020 American Psychological Association. Used with permission.

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