Date of Award

8-2007

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Psychology

Major Professor

Deborah P. Welsh

Committee Members

Kristina Coop Gordon, John W. Lounsbury, Brian K. Barber

Abstract

This dissertation describes two projects aimed at understanding the role of conflict, connection, and aggression in adolescent romantic relationships. The first project is an empirical investigation that seeks to understand how the developmental task of separation-individuation is negotiated in adolescents’ romantic relationships via their communication processes. We hypothesize that participants who exhibit higher levels of connection and lower levels of conflict will be less physically aggressive and feel more satisfied in their relationships. We also hypothesize a moderation model whereby participants who exhibit conflict in the context of higher levels of connection will have better relational outcomes than participants who exhibit conflict in the context of lower levels of connection. To explore these associations, we use observational and survey data collected from 98 middle adolescent and 105 late adolescent dating couples. Results suggest that participants who exhibited higher levels of connection and lower levels of conflict were more likely to report being satisfied with their relationships. Similarly, participants who demonstrated higher levels of conflict were more likely to report using and were observed using more physical aggression. Females were significantly more likely to report using and were observed using more physical aggression than males as well.

The second paper, a comprehensive and integrative review of the literature, provides a context for understanding this significant gender finding that females were more aggressive than males. Much controversy and debate exist about the differential incidence of dating aggression perpetration by males and females in adolescence and early adulthood. Some studies have failed to find any significant gender differences, and others have found that females are more likely to perpetrate dating aggression than males. The goal of this paper is to review the literature in adolescence and early adulthood regarding gender differences in dating aggression, to discuss individual and contextual factors that may contribute to the emergence of dating aggression differentially for males and females, and to discuss methodological concerns and future directions for research in this area. The conclusion that can be drawn most confidently from research to date is that in normative samples, the proportion of males and females who engage in mild psychological and physical aggression (not sexual aggression) is about equal or higher in females than males in adolescent and young adult samples.

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