Human aggressive behavior is any intentional causation of harm to others, and increasingly severe acts of aggression can represent even violence (Anderson & Bushman, 2002). Anderson and Bushman (2002) distinguish between instrumental and hostile aggression, the former being a means to reach a goal and the latter being a reactive impulse to harm an opponent. Relational aggression, as defined by Oka, Brown, and Miller (2016), constitutes a specialty of emotional (vs. physical) aggression that involves third parties, such as is the case of social sabotage, to damage relationships and hurt the victim through the unfulfilled need of belonging in those relationships.
Bilateral partner aggression and maternal gatekeeping
The discussion of the feminist concept of domestic violence and more recently intimate partner violence (IPV) (Ferreira & Buttell, 2016) is today more involving psychological considerations and is questioning the socially perpetuated view of a rather one-sided female victimization (Espinoza & Warner, 2016). Zimmermann’s (2016) review of research has found evidence that partner aggression is bilateral and Bantekas (2016) is reproaching the legal system of having adopted an uncritical assumption that mothers are naturally and socially predestined to be the (sole) caregivers for a couple’s children, which doesn’t base on scientific findings. Although a family’s benefit from paternal involvement in child rearing has been demonstrated, “maternal gatekeeping” has persisted to be a controlling practice by mothers hindering the participation of the children’s fathers (Hauser, 2012). The traditional role of the mother is increasingly taken over by fathers too (Sodermans, Botterman, Havermans, & Matthijs, 2015). Neither women nor man can escape the influence of society’s family concept, why women may still strongly identify with a culturally shaped maternal role (Radcliffe & Cassell, 2015). Cannon, Schoppe-Sullivan, Mangelsdorf, Brown, and Sokolowski (2008) suggest that modern beliefs about the father’s role may prevent maternal gatekeeping. Maternal gatekeeping practice may be a reaction to a father’s little involvement (Hauser, 2012) or the reason (Kulik & Sadeh, 2015) for a quantitatively limited relationship between father and child, for example as a result of interparental conflicts (Stevenson et al., 2014) or perceived insecure partner attachment (Ma, Chen, Zhang, Ma, & Ran, 2017).
There are incoherent findings from a biological perspective, as for example that peptide hormones oxytocin (OT) could explain mammalian social behavior such as aggression (Campbell, 2008). Albeit the general aggression model (GAM) is recognizing personal characteristics such as personality traits, genetic conditions, and sex as input for psychological processes (Anderson & Bushman, 2002), Ferguson and Dyck (2012) reject GAM’s high social learning focus and instead propose the emphasis on diathesis-stress and gene-by-environment interactions. Bakermans-Kranenburg and van IJzendoorn (2015) describe the differential susceptibility hypothesis, which is a further development of the diathesis-stress model, as an explanation for the link between genetic variations and environmental factors, such as stressful life experiences.
As for psychological factors, research poses that maternal interparental aggression mirrors frustration and control desire related to relationship issues, such as economics, adultery, or marital collaboration (Nomaguchi, Johnson, Minter, & Aldrich, 2017). Velotti, Elison, and Garofalo (2014) found that the responses to shame may be crucial for triggering antisocial and aggressive behavior too.
In response to the complexity of addressing aggressive behavior McGuire’s (2008) points to multi-modal probabilistic intervention approaches. Helping couples to understand their attitude toward psychological partner control and the learning of strategies to avoid defending responses that lead to aggressive behavior (Graham-Kevan & Archer, 2008), may account for the relevance of family systems and gender theories at the same time (Pedersen, 2016).
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Espinoza, R., & Warner, D. (2016). Where Do We Go from here?: Examining Intimate Partner Violence by Bringing Male Victims, Female Perpetrators, and Psychological Sciences into the Fold. Journal Of Family Violence, 31(8), 959-966. doi:10.1007/s10896-016-9881-4
Ferguson, C. J., & Dyck, D. (2012). Paradigm change in aggression research: The time has come to retire the General Aggression Model. Aggression And Violent Behavior, 17220-228. doi:10.1016/j.avb.2012.02.007
Ferreira, R. J., & Buttell, F. P. (2016). Can a “Psychosocial Model” Help Explain Violence Perpetrated by Female Batterers?. Research On Social Work Practice, 26(4), 362-371.
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Ma, Y., Chen, X., Zhang, X., Ma, H., & Ran, G. (2017). Do attachment patterns predict aggression in a context of social rejection? An executive functioning account. Aggressive Behavior, doi:10.1002/ab.21700
McGuire, J. (2008). A review of effective interventions for reducing aggression and violence. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 363(1503), 2577–2597.
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Oka, M., Brown, C. C., & Miller, R. B. (2016). Attachment and Relational Aggression: Power as a Mediating Variable. American Journal Of Family Therapy, 44(1), 24-35. doi:10.1080/01926187.2015.1105716
Pedersen, D. (2016). Quantity and Quality: A More Nuanced Look at the Association Between Family Work and Marital Well-Being. Marriage And Family Review, 1-26. doi:10.1080/01494929.2016.1177632
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Sodermans, A. K., Botterman, S., Havermans, N., & Matthijs, K. (2015). Involved Fathers, Liberated Mothers? Joint Physical Custody and the Subjective Well-Being of Divorced Parents. Social Indicators Research, 122(1), 257-277. doi:http://dx.doi.org.liverpool.idm.oclc.org/10.1007/s11205-014-0676-9
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Velotti, P., Elison, J., & Garofalo, C. (2014). Shame and Aggression: Different Trajectories and Implications. Aggression And Violent Behavior, 19(4), 454-461.
Zimmermann, A. (2016). The denial of female domestic violence. Quadrant, 60(7/8), 54.
So much information in this marvelous post. Thank you for sharing with all of us
Thank YOU for your great feedback.
Oh it is always my pleasure
Read it two -three times.. still I couldn’t understand it fully.. thinking on those oxytocin effects.. is that really possible
Hi Akhila. Thanks for your question! Yeah, that’s why I also wrote these are “incoherent” findings. In any case though, osytocin is identified as regulating the bonds with offspring and mates, what includes potential aggressive behavior for the protection of these relationships (Campbell, 2008). Looking at the current research, I think social learning is much more important than biological explanations though. In minimum we human beings are able to overrun many genetic and hormone programs by (socially learned) reason:-)…
Interesting again, Mathias.
Hi Patty. Motivating to hear that from you, thank a lot!
PAS (Parental Alienation Syndrome) one parent demonizing another in a divorce is a very damaging form of child abuse.
Hi Cindy. I agree. Thank you for bringing up this term and concept. I was just looking for that, so, very helpful!