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Intimate partner violence: Beliefs and psychological predictors of the propensity to intervene

Licentiate thesis
Authors Helen Alfredsson
Date of public defense 2013-11-22
Opponent at public defense Docent Annika Nordlund, Department of psychology, Umeå university
Publisher University of Gothenburg
Place of publication Göteborg
Publication year 2013
Published at Department of Psychology
Language en
Keywords Public perceptions, intimate partner violence, propensity to intervene
Subject categories Psychology


Intimate partner violence (IPV) is widely recognized as a public health issue. While most people agree that IPV is unacceptable, many are reluctant to intervene personally in cases of IPV. Public intervention is one of the most important steps in preventing IPV, although few studies have focused on the factors that influence public intentions to intervene. The aim of this thesis was to explore beliefs about IPV (Study I) and subsequently, to examine the psychological predictors of propensity to intervene against IPV (Study II). The data for these two studies were gathered in January 2011 through a web-based survey that was distributed to 1,070 adults in the Swedish general population. The final response rate was 60.7% (N = 650). In Study I, respondents estimated in general that IPV exists in 24% of all Swedish relationships and considered psychological violence to be the most frequent type of abuse. Approximately half of the respondents stated that they believed that IPV is equally distributed across demographic groups, while persons with low socio-economic status, non-European immigrants, inhabitants of suburban areas, and people in the age range of 35–49 years were regarded as being especially vulnerable to IPV. Respondents considered IPV victims to be at least partially responsible for the violence that they suffered. Eight out of ten respondents suggested at least one viable intervention, although these suggestions were limited in range. Significant gender differences were evident, with female respondents showing greater awareness of the magnitude of IPV, victims’ vulnerability, and available strategies for intervention. From the results of the survey, it is clear that the general public needs to be better informed about the vulnerability of victims of IPV and available intervention options. In Study II, motivational predictors were found to account for the largest proportion of propensity to intervene. Therefore, feeling obligated to intervene and to experience negative emotions in relation to IPV may be important during the formation of intervention intentions. Cognitive predictors accounted for a smaller proportion of the explained variance. Still, consideration of IPV to be a prevalent problem in society and being less inclined to attribute solution responsibility to the offender was related to increased propensity to intervene. This thesis contributes valuable knowledge on beliefs about IPV and the factors that may promote or inhibit individual willingness to intervene. The results indicate how community campaigns could increase public intervention against IPV. However, people are likely to posit different psychological barriers against intervening. Some people might be hindered by the erroneous belief that IPV is an isolated problem that affects only a few, whilst others conform to a perceived norm in stating that one should not interfere in domestic disputes. Next, research should examine individual psychological barriers to engaging in intervention. Research shows that information that is attuned to the values of a target audience is more successful in promoting attitude change, as compared with information aimed at persuading a general audience. Hence, research of IPV prevention should benefit from the development of instruments that can reliably identify individual psychological barriers against intervening. Subsequently, information strategies that address specific barriers could be formed.

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