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Psychology of Violence 2011, Vol. 1, No. 4, 302–314

© 2011 American Psychological Association 2152-0828/11/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/a0025157

Automatic Cognitions and Teen Dating Violence Ernest N. Jouriles

John H. Grych

Southern Methodist University

Marquette University

David Rosenfield, Renee McDonald, and M. Catherine Dodson Southern Methodist University Objective: The present research examined whether the level of aggression in automatic cognitions was positively associated with teen dating violence after accounting for more consciously controlled, self-reported attitudes about dating violence. Method: At baseline, 95 teens who had been remanded to the juvenile court system because of antisocial behavior completed a word-completion task designed to measure the level of aggression in their automatic cognitions. Teens also completed questionnaire measures of attitudes about dating violence and dating violence perpetration during the previous three months, and then provided data on dating violence perpetration every two weeks over a 3-month follow-up period. Results: The level of aggression in automatic cognitions was positively associated with dating violence perpetration after accounting for teens’ self-reported attitudes about dating violence. This pattern of results emerged with both concurrent and prospective associations. It is noteworthy that aggression in automatic cognitions also predicted changes in dating violence perpetration over the 3-month follow-up period, even after controlling for baseline levels of the perpetration of dating violence and teens’ self-reported attitudes about dating violence. Conclusions: These findings suggest that theoretical models of teen dating violence should consider the role of automatic as well as more consciously controlled cognitive processes in the perpetration of teen dating violence. In addition, clinical efforts to reduce teen dating violence might benefit from targeting automatic as well as more controlled cognitive processes. Keywords: teen dating violence, attitudes, automatic cognitions, word-completion task

Violence in teen dating relationships is a common and potentially very serious public health problem. National surveys of U.S. high school students estimate that about 9% experience some form of physical dating violence each year (Eaton, Davis, Barrios, Brener, & Noonan, 2007), and about 8% experience unwanted sexual intercourse or rape (Howard, Wang, & Yan, 2007). Prevalence estimates

This article was published Online First August 22, 2011. Ernest N. Jouriles, David Rosenfield, Renee McDonald, and M. Catherine Dodson, Department of Psychology, Southern Methodist University; John H. Grych, Department of Psychology, Marquette University. This research was supported by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention R01 CE001432. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Ernest N. Jouriles, Department of Psychology, Southern Methodist University, P. O. Box 750442, Dallas, TX 75275-0442. E-mail: [email protected]

based on surveys of representative local samples tend to be much higher (e.g., O’Leary, Smith Slep, Avery-Leaf, & Cascardi, 2008), as are estimates based on samples identified on the basis of teen antisocial behavior (e.g., Chase, Treboux, O’Leary, & Strassberg, 1998). The violence that occurs in teen dating relationships is sometimes very severe (Wolitzky-Taylor et al., 2008), with devastating short- and long-term consequences for its victims (e.g., serious physical injuries, rape, death). However, even in the more common scenario, in which less severe incidents of physical aggression and sexual coercion are committed, at times even with playful intentions, the violence can be harmful to the victims’ psychological well-being (Jouriles, Garrido, Rosenfield, & McDonald, 2009). Teen dating violence (TDV) victimization during adolescence also increases risk for being rev-

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ictimized in young adulthood (Williams, Craig, Connolly, Pepler, & Laporte, 2008), and opens the door for a variety of mental health problems in adulthood (Ackard & Neumark-Sztainer, 2002). Thus, understanding the processes that lead to TDV perpetration should be an important societal goal. This research attempts to identify key predictors of TDV perpetration within a sample of teens who are at high risk for engaging in such behavior. The specific predictors examined include automatic and controlled cognitions about aggression. Cognitions and Teen Dating Violence Theoretical models often emphasize the importance of cognitions, and more specifically attitudes about violence, as precipitants of TDV perpetration (e.g., Foshee, Linder, MacDougall, & Bangdiwala, 2001; Riggs & O’Leary, 1996; Wolfe, Wekerle, Scott, Straatman, & Grasley, 2004). Attitudes that condone dating violence or imply its expedience are theorized to increase the likelihood of TDV perpetration, whereas attitudes that such violence is unacceptable or will lead to adverse outcomes are theorized to decrease its likelihood. Empirical findings are routinely consistent with such models; however, methodological and measurement considerations raise questions about the meaning of these findings. For example, empirical research in this area has been primarily cross-sectional (e.g., Chase et al., 1998; Foshee, Bauman, & Linder, 1999; Kinsfogel & Grych, 2004; Lichter & McCloskey, 2004; O’Keefe, 1998; Riggs & O’Leary, 1996), raising questions about the direction of effects. Furthermore, all of this research has been based on self-report, paper-andpencil questionnaire measures of attitudes, which assess attitudes about dating violence directly and overtly. Participants are aware that their attitudes about dating violence are being assessed, and their responses presumably derive from conscious deliberation or reflective thought. This measurement strategy also assumes that teens can accurately reflect on their attitudes about violence and that they are willing to report honestly about them. Contemporary conceptual models of the association between cognition and behavior tend to explain behavior as a function of two kinds of cognitive processes: controlled (i.e., reflective)

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and automatic. For example, the reflectiveimpulsive model (Strack & Deutsch, 2004) postulates the presence of a reflective informationprocessing system and a separate, impulsive information-processing system. When an object is first perceived, the impulsive system is engaged, and mental representations (e.g., automatic attitudes or cognitions) are triggered. These representations are capable of prompting behavior without subjective awareness. As the object receives continued attention, the reflective system is then engaged, generating and activating more controlled attitudes. Both automatic and controlled attitudes are thought to be important in the prediction of behavior, and they may also influence each other in the prediction of behavior. For example, holding a reflective attitude that counters an automatic cognition might diminish the effects of that automatic cognition on behavior. The few models that have incorporated automatic processes into the study of aggression suggest that individuals whose automatic mental representations are more aggressive in nature are more likely to interpret ambiguous situational cues as aggressive or provocative, and are more primed to engage in aggressive behavior (e.g., Anderson & Bushman, 2002; Dodge & Crick, 1990). In addition, automatic cognitive processes are thought to be particularly important in guiding behavior in emotionally arousing situations (Anderson & Bushman, 2002; Berkowitz, 2008; Berkowitz & Buck, 1967). Acts of violence in teen relationships often emerge in just such situations, reflecting a heatof-the-moment response to a perceived slight (Foshee, Bauman, Linder, Rice, & Wilcher, 2007). In sum, the reflective-impulsive model and other dual-construct/process models of cognition and behavior (e.g., Anderson & Bushman, 2002; Dodge & Crick, 1990; Gawronski & Bodenhausen, 2006; Wilson, Lindsey, & Schooler, 2000) suggest that aggressive content in automatic mental representations should predict TDV perpetration. Controlled attitudes that condone violence should also predict TDV perpetration, and may interact with automatic cognitions in the prediction of TDV. Specifically, holding the attitude that dating violence is unacceptable or will lead to negative consequences might diminish the effects of automatic cognitive processes on TDV perpetration.

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Measuring Automatic Cognitions Several methods for assessing automatic cognitions have been developed, but they have seldom been applied to the study of violent behavior (Todorov & Bargh, 2002). One method that may prove particularly useful for the measurement of aggressive content in automatic cognitions is a word-completion task (Anderson, Carnagey, & Eubanks, 2003; Roediger, Weldon, Stadler, & Riegler, 1992). In this task, a list of word fragments is presented to participants. For each word fragment presented, there are a number of possible “correct” answers. For example, the word fragment “ k i _ _” can be completed in multiple ways (e.g., as an aggressive word such as “kill” or “kick”, or as a nonaggressive word such as “kiss” or “kite”). Participants are asked to provide one correct answer for each word fragment in the list. This kind of task is an indirect measure, in that participants are unaware of what the measure is assessing; furthermore, the task can be speeded to limit the influence of reflective or controlled processing (De Houwer & Moors, 2010). According to dual-process models of cognition, scores derived from a measure such as this should predict violent behavior. Present Study The present research evaluated several hypotheses about associations between automatic cognitions and TDV. Consistent with theory and research reviewed above, we first hypothesized that aggression in automatic cognitions would be positively associated with TDV perpetration concurrently and prospectively. Second, we hypothesized that aggression in automatic cognitions would be positively associated with TDV perpetration, even after accounting for self-reported attitudes about the acceptance of TDV and perceived negative consequences of TDV. Third, we expected that aggression in automatic cognitions would interact with more controlled attitudes about TDV in predicting TDV perpetration. Specifically, we expected stronger positive associations between aggression in automatic cognitions and TDV perpetration among teens with attitudes that were more accepting of TDV and among those who were expecting fewer negative consequences as a result of TDV.

Teens who engage in antisocial behavior, such as those referred to the juvenile justice system, are at high risk for perpetrating partner violence (Capaldi & Clark, 1998; Ehrensaft et al., 2003). This study was conducted with such a sample, because relatively few studies of TDV have focused on high-risk youth, and as a result, little is known about the mechanisms or processes responsible for TDV perpetration by individuals already prone to antisocial behavior. Such research is thought to be necessary for informing the development of prevention and intervention programs targeted at high-risk groups (Gilbert & Daffern, 2010). Methods Participants Participants were 95 14- to 17-year-olds (51% female) recruited from courts and agencies providing services to adolescents in trouble because of antisocial behavior. The mean age of the 95 participants was 15.8 years (SD ⫽ 1.0). Sixty percent were African American, 18% White, 18% Hispanic, 1% Asian/Pacific Islander, 1% Native American, and 2% reported they were “more than one race”. Mean family income reported by the mothers was $38,238 (SD ⫽ $33,902). Each of the 95 teens was involved in a romantic relationship at the beginning of the study; 36 (38%) teens reported having at least two different romantic partners over the course of the 3-month follow-up period. A power analysis, using the program GPower (Erdfelder, Faul, & Buchner, 1996), indicated that this sample size was sufficiently large to detect a medium effect (f2 ⫽ .15) in multiple regression analyses examining the predictive validity of the word-completion task; with 95 teens and six predictors, power ⫽ .96. Procedures The dataset used in this study was drawn from a larger project. Only procedures and measures used in the current study are described here. All procedures were approved by the IRB of the institution where the study was conducted. Recruitment flyers, which advertised the “Teens & Friends Project”, were handed out to teens waiting for their court appointment. Flyers indicated that the purpose of the study

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was to learn more about teens, their families, and friends. They also indicted that the study would involve multiple assessments over time, that participating teens and their mothers would each receive $50 upon completing the baseline assessment, and that teens would be compensated $10 for each phone interview that they completed during the follow-up period. Interested families called the project, and were screened over the phone to determine eligibility. To be eligible, the teen and his or her mother had to indicate that the teen was currently involved in a romantic relationship. Specifically, in separate phone interviews, the teen and the mother were asked if the teen was in a relationship (have a girlfriend/boyfriend, someone he or she goes on dates with or hangs out with, someone who is more than a friend, or someone who he or she likes). This broad definition of relationships is consistent with the variability with which teens characterize their romantic relationships. Additional inclusion criteria required participants to speak English well enough to participate in the assessments (this was determined by the staff member during the screening phone call), and for the teen to have lived with his or her mother for the previous six months (mother report). Exclusion criteria included mothers’ affirmative response to any of the following questions: Has (the teen) ever injured his or her head badly enough to lose consciousness? Has any professional ever told you that (the teen) has autistic disorder, or might be mentally retarded, or might be a slow learner? Research assistants reviewed the consent/assent documents with the mother and adolescent prior to commencing participation, and mother consent and teen assent were obtained before commencing the baseline assessment. Teens and mothers were assessed at baseline and then teens completed a series of follow-up phone assessments (serial assessments), which were scheduled every other week during the 3-month period after the baseline assessment. This every-other-week schedule allowed for up to six phone assessments for each participant over the 3-month follow-up period. Measures during all assessments (baseline and serial assessments) were read aloud to the teen participants. We chose to directly administer measures to teens (as opposed to having them complete paper-and-pencil questionnaires on their own during baseline or a paper-and-pencil or elec-

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tronic diary during the follow-up period) in an effort to eliminate invalid answers from misunderstandings or careless responding. Interviewers provided anchoring time points (e.g., since Labor Day, or since the first week of classes) to help participants identify the beginning of the assessment period. The research staff members conducting the assessments were blind to the study hypotheses. Frequent staff meetings were held during data collection to maintain consistency in procedures and assessment. The baseline assessments were conducted in private interview rooms at our research facilities. For each of the serial phone assessments, adolescents were first asked if they were able to talk (i.e., if they were in a private location), and given the opportunity to schedule a more appropriate time for the interview if necessary. During the serial phone assessments, teens provided information on whether they were currently in a relationship, and whether they had directed physical or sexual aggression toward their romantic partner during the previous two weeks. Prior research suggests that serial assessments of dating violence—aggregating across a series of assessments (e.g., six assessments) inquiring about the occurrence of violent acts over relatively short time intervals (e.g., past 2 weeks) within a longer time period (e.g., our 3-month follow-up period)—may provide more valid estimates of TDV than a single assessment of behavior inquiring about the entire time frame (Jouriles, McDonald, Garrido, Rosenfield, & Brown, 2005). The assessment of violence over 2-week periods also allowed us to better pinpoint and measure TDV at times in which the teens were actually in a relationship. Given the fleeting nature of many teen relationships and the teens’ difficulties in describing relationship histories (Carver, Joyner, & Udry, 2003), we reasoned the 2-week assessments might provide more precise information pertaining to the teens’ relationships. Measures Acceptance of TDV. At the baseline assessment, we assessed attitudes about the acceptance of TDV with the 8-item Acceptance of Prescribed Norms scale (Foshee et al., 1999; Foshee et al., 2001). This measure reflects the degree to which aggressive behaviors are believed to be a common or appropriate reaction

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to certain dating/couple situations (e.g., “It is OK for a boy to hit his girlfriend if she did something to make him mad.”). Adolescents answered items on a 4-point scale ranging from 0 Strongly Disagree to 3 Strongly Agree. Higher scores reflect greater acceptance TDV. Coefficient alpha for this measure in our sample was .70, and in prior cross-sectional research this scale has been found to correlate with TDV perpetration (Foshee et al., 1999). Perceived negative consequences of TDV. At the baseline assessment, we assessed attitudes about whether dating violence would result in negative consequences using the 4-item Perceived Negative Sanctions scale (Foshee et al., 1999; Foshee et al., 2001). This measure assesses the extent to which the adolescent anticipates negative consequences of TDV perpetration (e.g., “If I hit a dating partner, he or she would break up with me.”). Adolescents responded on a 4-point scale ranging from 0 Strongly Disagree to 3 Strongly Agree. Coefficient alpha in our sample was .72, and in prior cross-sectional research this scale has been found to correlate with TDV perpetration (Foshee et al., 1999). Higher scores reflect greater beliefs that dating violence will result in negative consequences. Aggression in automatic cognitions. Teens completed a word-completion task at the baseline assessment. This task has been used in research examining the effects of violent song lyrics on social cognition (Anderson et al., 2003). Teens were instructed to work as quickly as possible to fill in missing letters to create a real word for each of 98 word fragments, and were told that they would have 5 minutes to complete the task. Each item consisted of a word that was missing one or more letters (e.g., “h __ t”) and which could be correctly completed in multiple ways (e.g., “hat”, “hit”, “hot”, or “hut”). The task was designed so that teens would not be able to complete all items in a 5-min period. Because of the speeded nature of the task, participants have little time to reflect on each word and consequently their responses are interpreted as a measure of automatic cognition. Across participants, the number of words generated ranged from 12 to 79, with an average of 44 (SD ⫽ 12.98). Using a slightly adapted version of the Word Count Task coding guide (Anderson et al., 2003), each response was coded as neutral, am-

biguous, aggressive, or nonword. Modifications to the coding guide were made to accommodate words that our participants provided, but which were not included in the original coding guide (e.g., knots, telepath). Two research assistants coded the data from this task, and we checked for accuracy on 100% of the data (␬ ⫽ .95). We used the total number of aggressive words as the measure of aggression in automatic cognitions. Teen dating violence perpetration. The 4-item physical and 4-item sexual violence scales from the Conflict in Adolescent Dating Relationship Inventory (CADRI; Wolfe et al., 2001) were used to assess TDV perpetration at baseline and at each of the serial phone assessments. Sample items from the physical aggression scale include “I threw something at him/ her” and “I kicked, hit or punched him/her”. Sample items from the sexual aggression scale include “I touched him/her sexually when he or she didn’t want me to” and “I kissed him/her when he or she didn’t want me to.” Both subscales were selected because physical and sexual violence often co-occur among adolescents (Molidor & Tolman, 1998; Ozer, Tschann, Pasch, & Flores, 2004). At baseline, teens reported how often each act had occurred with any partner during the past three months using a 5-point scale ranging from 1 Never to 5 Four or more times. At the serial assessments, participants reported how often each act had occurred during the previous two weeks. For both the baseline and serial assessment data, physical and sexual violence perpetration scores were converted to z-scores and summed to derive an 8-item composite measure of TDV perpetration for each assessment point. This resulted in a composite measure of physical and sexual dating violence for the baseline (which asked about dating violence over the preceding 3 months, ␣ ⫽ .73) and at each obtained 2-week serial assessment. Results Descriptive Data Of the 95 participants, five indicated that they were not in a relationship at any point after baseline. Thus, cross-sectional analyses included all 95 participants (all were in a relationship at the outset of the study), whereas prospective analyses included the 90 participants

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who reported a relationship after baseline. Of these 90 participants, there was wide variation in the number of serial assessments completed. Specifically, 17 (19%) completed six serial assessments, 21 (23%) completed five, 24 (27%) completed four, 14 (16%) completed three, eight (9%) completed two, and six (7%) completed one. Thus, 367 serial assessments were completed out of a possible 540 (90 participants ⫻ 6); this 68% completion rate (367/540) is within the range of what is typically reported in electronic diary studies (Hufford & Shields, 2002). Teens indicated that they were in a relationship during 311 of the completed 367 serial assessments (85%). Since dating violence is less likely to occur if the teen has no romantic partner, and since combining such data with data collected when teens do have a partner might add nonrandom error or bias the results, only data from the serial assessments in which teens were in a relationship were used in analyses. To test our hypotheses regarding prospective associations, we calculated the average of each teen’s scores across all of the 2-week assessments in which he or she reported being in a relationship. This gave us a single score for TDV for the 3-month period and simplified the primary analyses used to test our hypotheses. In addition, prior research using such a scoring method for serial assessments of TDV suggests that an aggregated score across a series of assessments increases the validity of estimates of TDV (Jouriles et al., 2005). The number of

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assessments obtained was not correlated with this average score, r ⫽ .04, p ⬎ .71. Means, standard deviations, and correlations among the study variables are presented in Table 1. At baseline, 37% (35/95) reported having perpetrated TDV during the previous 3 months, whereas 33% (30/90) reported perpetration at some point during the follow-up period. Those reporting perpetration at baseline (n ⫽ 35) averaged 3.86 (SD ⫽ 3.84) acts over the previous 3 months. Those reporting perpetration during the follow-up period (n ⫽ 30) averaged 2.86 (SD ⫽ 2.26) acts in each 2-week assessment period for which they provided data. Hypothesis 1 Our first hypothesis was that aggression in automatic cognitions would be positively associated with TDV perpetration concurrently and prospectively. As hypothesized, aggression in automatic cognitions at baseline was associated positively with TDV perpetration concurrently, r ⫽ .27, p ⬍ .01, and prospectively, r ⫽ .33, p ⬍ .01 (See Table 1). Hypotheses 2 and 3 Our second hypothesis was that aggression in automatic cognitions would be positively associated with TDV perpetration, even after accounting for self-reported attitudes about the acceptance of TDV and perceived negative consequences of TDV. Our third hypothesis was that aggression in

Table 1 Correlations, Means and Standard Deviations of the Study Variables 1

2

3

4

Baseline 1. Aggression in automatic cognitions — 2. Acceptance of TDV ⫺.25ⴱ — 3. Perceived negative consequences of TDV .13 .00 — 4. TDV perpetration .27ⴱⴱ .03 ⫺.34ⴱⴱ — Follow-up .12 ⫺.24ⴱ .59ⴱⴱ 5. TDV perpetration during follow-up .33ⴱⴱ Demographics 6. Ethnicity1 .10 ⫺.14 .15 ⫺.17 7. Sex2 ⫺.32ⴱⴱ .22ⴱ .45ⴱⴱ ⫺.27ⴱⴱ 8. Family income3 ⫺.03 ⫺.07 .07 .01 9. Age of teenager .11 ⫺.19 ⫺.12 ⫺.05

5

7

8

Mean (SD) 8.27 (3.67) 3.00 (3.33) 8.01 (3.27) 1.42 (2.97)



0.57 (1.34)

⫺.02 — 0.37 (.48) ⫺.21ⴱ ⫺.14 — 0.49 (.50) ⫺.07 .20 .20 — 38.23 (3.39) ⫺.10 .12 ⫺.06 .10 15.83 (1.05)

Note. N ⫽ 95 for all correlations except TDV during follow-up (n ⫽ 90). Ethnicity coded 1 ⫽ African American, 0 ⫽ Other. 2 Sex coded 0 ⫽ female, 1 ⫽ male. ⴱ p ⱕ .05. ⴱⴱ p ⱕ .01. 1

6

3

Income in thousands.

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automatic cognitions would interact with more controlled attitudes about TDV in predicting TDV perpetration. Specifically, we expected stronger positive associations between aggression in automatic cognitions and TDV perpetration among teens with attitudes that were more accepting of TDV and among those who were expecting fewer negative consequences as a result of TDV. We initially tested hypotheses 2 and 3 in three separate regression models. The first employed TDV perpetration at baseline as the dependent variable; the second used TDV perpetration over the 3-month follow-up period as the dependent variable, and the third used changes in TDV perpetration from baseline to the follow-up period as the dependent variable. In each analysis, we regressed TDV perpetration on aggression in automatic cognitions, acceptance of TDV, perceived negative consequences of TDV, and the interaction of aggression in automatic cognitions with both acceptance of TDV and perceived negative consequences of TDV. The variables were converted to z-scores prior to analysis to enhance interpretation of the results. We then followed these analyses with multilevel regression models (MRM), to explore the possibility that TDV might change systematically over time. We examined the need to control for teen age, sex (coded 0 ⫽ female, 1 ⫽ male), ethnicity (coded 1 ⫽ African American, 0 ⫽ other), family income (as demographics), and the total number of words on the word-completion task by including them in the initial regression model for each analysis, along with the other predictors. Ethnicity was the only variable associated with TDV perpetration in any of the regression models; sex was not associated with TDV in the regression models,

even though there was an association in the correlational analyses. To be conservative, we retained ethnicity in each of our three final models; the other demographic variables were dropped from further analyses. Cross-sectional analyses. Results indicated that aggression in automatic cognitions, b ⫽ .33, t(88) ⫽ 2.28, p ⬍ .05, sr2 ⫽ .06, perceived negative consequences, b ⫽ ⫺.40, t(88) ⫽ 3.10, p ⬍ .005, sr2 ⫽ .10, and their interaction, b ⫽ ⫺.28, t(88) ⫽ 2.01, p ⬍ .05, sr2 ⫽ .04, were associated with TDV perpetration at the baseline assessment (see Table 2). Specifically, aggression in automatic cognitions was positively associated with TDV, whereas perceived negative consequences was negatively associated with TDV (the greater the belief that dating violence will result in negative consequences, the less TDV). To understand the interaction, we calculated the association between aggression in automatic cognitions and TDV perpetration at high (1 SD above the mean) and low (1 SD below the mean) levels of perceived negative consequences of TDV (see Aiken & West, 1991), the results of which are displayed in Figure 1. As predicted, at high levels of perceived negative consequences, aggression in automatic cognitions was not associated with TDV perpetration, b ⫽ .05, p ⬎ .80. However, at low levels of perceived negative consequences, aggression in automatic cognitions was strongly and positively associated with TDV perpetration, b ⫽ .60, p ⫽ .001. Prospective analyses. We next used the same regression model to determine whether our predictors were also associated with future perpetration of TDV. The dependent variable in

Table 2 Regression Coefficients for Predictors of TDV at Baseline and Follow-Up, and Change in TDV From Baseline to Follow-Up Variable

TDV Baseline

TDV Follow-up

Residualized change in TDV

Aggression in automatic cognitions Acceptance of TDV Perceived negative consequences of TDV Aggression in Automatic cognitions ⫻ Perceived negative consequences of TDV Aggression in Automatic cognitions ⫻ Acceptance of TDV Ethnicity1

.33ⴱ .18 ⫺.40ⴱⴱ

.33ⴱⴱ .22 ⫺.19ⴱ

.18ⴱ .14 ⫺.03

⫺.28ⴱ

⫺.21ⴱ

⫺.10

.11 ⫺.38

.06 .02

1 ⴱ

Ethnicity code: 1 ⫽ African American, 0 ⫽ Other. p ⱕ .05. ⴱⴱ p ⱕ .01.

.00 .20

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Figure 1. The association between aggression in automatic cognitions at baseline and TDV perpetration at baseline, at high (⫹1 SD) and low (⫺1 SD) levels of perceived negative consequences of TDV. Note. Scores are standardized.

this analysis was our follow-up measure of TDV perpetration (i.e., the average of the serial assessments across the follow-up period). Results indicated that aggression in automatic cognitions, b ⫽ .33, t(83) ⫽ 3.14, p ⬍ .005, sr2 ⫽ .11, perceived negative consequences of TDV, b ⫽ ⫺.19, t(83) ⫽ 2.09, p ⬍ .05, sr2 ⫽ .05, and their interaction, b ⫽ ⫺.21, t(83) ⫽ 2.20, p ⬍ .05, sr2 ⫽ .06, predicted TDV perpetration during follow-up (see Table 2). As with the crosssectional analyses, aggression in automatic cognitions was positively associated with TDV, whereas perceived negative consequences was negatively associated with TDV. We again calculated the association between the aggression in automatic cognitions and TDV perpetration at high (1 SD above the mean) and low (1 SD

below the mean) levels of perceived negative consequences (see Figure 2). The results mirrored the cross-sectional findings. When baseline perceived negative consequences of TDV were high, aggression in automatic cognitions was not associated with TDV perpetration during follow-up, b ⫽ .12, p ⫽ .43. However, when baseline perceived negative consequences were low, aggression in automatic cognitions was strongly and positively associated with TDV perpetration during follow-up, b ⫽ .53, p ⬍ .001. Predicting change in TDV from baseline to follow up. Our data (see Table 1) and the literature in general (e.g., Fritz & Slep, 2009) indicate that TDV is relatively stable over time. However, it is unknown whether predictors of

Figure 2. The association between aggression in automatic cognitions at baseline and TDV perpetration over the 3-month follow-up period, at high (⫹1 SD) and low (⫺1 SD) levels of perceived negative consequences of TDV. Note. Scores are standardized.

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the level of TDV are also associated with change in TDV over time. Although our measures of TDV at baseline (a retrospective report of TDV over the previous 3 months) and follow-up (the average of the serial assessments of TDV every 2 weeks over the follow-up period) were not identical, we can still evaluate the association of the predictors to the change in TDV over time using residualized TDV change scores. Residualized scores are superior to raw change scores because they are not subject to regression to the mean, have lower variance than raw change scores, and are meaningful even when the follow-up measure is not identical to the baseline measure (Tabachnick & Fidell, 2007). Conceptually, residualized scores reflect the degree to which the follow-up score differs from what would be expected on the basis of the baseline score. The scores are created by partialing out the variance in the follow-up score that is predicted by the baseline score. To evaluate the associations of our predictors to residualized change in TDV over the follow-up period, we used the same regression model employed in the previous analyses, but utilized residualized TDV change scores as the dependent variable. Results indicated that aggression in automatic cognitions was positively associated with residualized change in TDV perpetration over the follow-up period, b ⫽ .18, t(83) ⫽ 2.04, p ⬍ .05, sr2 ⫽ .05. However, neither acceptance of TDV, perceived consequences of TDV, nor their interactions with aggression in automatic cognitions were associated with change in TDV perpetration, over and above the contribution of aggression in automatic cognitions (see Table 2). Additional prospective analyses. As an alternative to using the average of the serial assessments as the dependent variable, we computed multilevel regression models (MRM), treating the serial assessment of TDV as a repeated-measures analysis. MRM allows us to investigate the possibility that TDV systematically changes over time, and weights the participants in proportion to the number and consistency of their responses. Thus, MRM allows us to determine if a different approach to handling missing serial assessment data leads to different results than our analyses using the average of the serial assessments. We conducted two MRM analyses. The first did not control for

baseline levels of TDV (analogous to the regression model used to determine whether our predictors were also associated with future TDV perpetration); the second one did (analogous to the regression model used to predict change in TDV from baseline to follow up). The MRM analyses yielded an identical pattern of results as the original regression analyses described above. There were no significant trends over time. Exploratory Analysis: Sex as a Moderator We also investigated the possibility that participant sex might moderate the associations between our predictors and TDV perpetration. Thus, we added sex and its interaction with each of the predictors (aggression in automatic cognitions, acceptance of TDV, perceived negative consequences of TDV) to each of our regression models (cross-sectional, prospective, and change in TDV over time) as well as to the MRM analyses. In all analyses, neither sex nor any of the interactions of sex with the predictor variables were associated with TDV perpetration. Discussion The results of this study indicate that aggression in adolescents’ automatic cognitions is positively associated with the perpetration of TDV concurrently and prospectively. Further, aggression in automatic cognitions is positively associated with TDV perpetration even after accounting for more direct measures of adolescents’ attitudes about dating violence. It is especially noteworthy that aggression in automatic cognitions predicted TDV perpetration during the follow-up period even after baseline levels of perpetration were controlled, indicating that aggression in automatic cognitions is positively associated with changes in TDV over time, as well as to current and future levels of TDV. The pattern of findings is consistent with dual-construct/process models of cognition and behavior (e.g., Gawronski & Bodenhausen, 2006; Strack & Deutsch, 2004; Wilson et al., 2000), which highlight the importance of automatic cognitive processes in the prediction of behavior, and with models of aggressive behavior which suggest that aggressive automatic cognitions may play a causal role in violence

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perpetration (Anderson & Bushman, 2002; Dodge & Crick, 1990). The finding that aggression in automatic cognitions predicted TDV perpetration during the follow-up period, even after baseline perpetration was controlled, highlights the potential importance of automatic cognitions as a predictor and potential causal contributor to TDV. In addition, the nonsignificant associations between the direct measures of attitudes about TDV and violence perpetration, after controlling for baseline TDV, suggest that the association between these variables and TDV may be complex. This pattern of results suggests the possibility that past findings of cross-sectional associations between direct measures of dating violence attitudes and TDV perpetration might partially be a function of reverse causation, in which violent behavior influences attitudes about violence. It is also possible that controlled attitudes, such as perceived negative consequences about TDV, primarily have immediate or concurrent effects on the perpetration of TDV, and that their lagged effect on TDV (which would be reflected in their effect on residualized change in TDV; see Kessler & Greenberg, 1981; Menard, 1991) is relatively small. The results of this study also provide evidence of an interaction between automatic cognitions and perceived negative consequences of TDV in the prediction of dating violence perpetration, both concurrently and prospectively. Specifically, aggression in automatic cognitions is strongly and positively associated with TDV perpetration among teens who believe that dating violence is unlikely to produce negative consequences, whereas it is not associated with TDV perpetration among teens who believe that TDV is more likely to produce negative consequences. This interaction is consistent with theory suggesting that reflective cognitive processes can alter the influence of automatic processes (e.g., Gawronski & Bodenhausen, 2006; Strack & Deutsch, 2004). The interaction, however, failed to emerge in the analysis examining residualized change scores for TDV perpetration. The effect of a variable on residualized change scores reflects a lagged, as opposed to a concurrent, effect (Kessler & Greenberg, 1981; Menard, 1991). Thus, it is possible that the effect of controlled or reflective cognitive processes on the association between aggression in automatic cognitions and TDV is primarily in

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the here and now. While the finding of an interaction between automatic cognitions and beliefs about perceived negative consequences of TDV is potentially important (as discussed below under clinical implications), questions remain about the utility of this interaction in predicting future changes in TDV perpetration. Limitations A few limitations should be considered when interpreting our results. First, data on all key variables were obtained from a single source— the adolescent. This may have resulted in stronger associations between variables because of shared method variance. It should be noted, though, that different methods were used to obtain the data on the key variables in this study (speeded tests, questionnaires, serial assessments). Adolescents are arguably the single best source for information on their own automatic and reflective cognitive processes, and given the transitory nature of most teen relationships (over one third of our sample indicated having different romantic partners over the course of the 3-month follow-up period), adolescents are arguably the only feasible source of information on dating violence perpetration over time. Nonetheless, our results would have been more compelling if we were able to obtain data on some of these variables from multiple sources. A second limitation is that our findings are based on a relatively small sample of adolescents, when compared to several other longitudinal studies on this topic (e.g., Brendgen, Vitaro, Tremblay, & Wanner, 2002; Foshee et al., 2001; Wolfe et al., 2004). In addition, the families in the present sample had come into contact with the courts. We had sufficient power to test our hypotheses, and there is value in investigating predictors of TDV among youth at high risk for such behavior, particularly for the purpose of developing targeted interventions for these youth (Gilbert & Daffern, 2010). Nevertheless, replicating these findings in larger samples would increase confidence in the validity of our results, and a larger sample might be necessary to evaluate sex differences in the prediction of TDV. It must also be acknowledged that it is not clear whether the present findings generalize to more representative samples of adolescents. Third, there were issues with measurement of some of the variables. Specifically, the internal

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consistency coefficients for our paper-andpencil questionnaires on attitudes about TDV were at the low end of the range of what is generally considered acceptable (Nunnally, 1978), which may have contributed to weaker associations with TDV. In addition, although our completion rate for the serial assessments of TDV (68%) was within the range of what is typically reported in electronic diary studies (Hufford & Shields, 2002), it, too, was toward the low end of that range. It was also lower than the completion rate reported in other studies that have biweekly serial assessments to assess for TDV among adolescents (Jouriles et al., 2005). The relatively low completion rate may have been due to a variety of factors, including the nature of the present sample (teens in contact with the courts because of antisocial behavior) and perhaps an insufficient incentive to complete these assessments. It should also be acknowledged that we are presuming the word-completion task assesses an automatic cognitive process. However, the extent to which it does so is not clear. Specifically, the fact that the task is speeded and the indirect nature of the task (participants are unaware that their attitudes are being assessed) theoretically should help tap automatic processes. On the other hand, even though the teens were instructed to work as quickly as possible to complete the task, it is still possible that some took their time during the task, and engaged in some amount of controlled or reflective processing while completing the task. Finally, this was a short (3-month) prospective study. It is not clear if automatic cognitions would predict TDV perpetration over a longer time interval. Research Implications Despite the limitations articulated above, the present research contributes to theory on possible causes of TDV, by highlighting the potential role of automatic cognitions in TDV perpetration. Although automatic cognition plays a prominent role in certain theories on aggressive behavior (e.g., Anderson & Bushman, 2002; Dodge & Crick, 1990) and the intergenerational transmission of violence (LanghinrichsenRohling, Hankla, & Stormberg, 2004), they have not been considered thus far in theories specific to TDV. Our findings suggest that aggression in automatic cognitions warrants fur-

ther investigation and integration into theory. Our findings also provide support for the criterion validity of the word-completion task as a measure of the level of aggression in automatic cognitions. Scores from the task were positively associated with TDV perpetration in crosssectional as well as prospective and change analyses. Clinical Implications Many programs designed to prevent TDV already target controlled or reflective cognitive processes, such as acceptance of violence toward a dating partner and the extent to which TDV is believed to result in negative consequences (Ting, 2009). Our findings suggest that it might be useful to also target automatic cognitive processes, and to explore how automatic cognitions can be altered to enhance efforts to prevent or reduce TDV. Theory on the origins of aggressive content in automatic cognitions suggests that the automaticity is a function of prolonged exposure to violence, or the frequent cognitive rehearsal of aggressive or violent events, or both (Anderson, Gentile, & Buckley, 2007; Todorov & Bargh, 2002). This implies that changing automatic cognitions will be challenging, because of their entrenched nature. One possible strategy is to attempt to develop prosocial content in these automatic cognitions, as an alternative to the aggressive content; such an approach, however, may require the provision of new prosocial experiences and the frequent cognitive rehearsal of these experiences over a prolonged period of time (Day, Gerace, Wilson, & Howells, 2008; Gilbert & Daffern, 2010). Another possibility is to identify and teach ways to alter or cancel out the effects of aggressive automatic cognitions. Intervening upon more controlled, conscious cognitions might be promising in this regard. Specifically, the belief that TDV is more likely to produce negative consequences appears to nullify the positive association between aggressive automatic cognitions and the perpetration of TDV. However, this interaction did not emerge when examining future change in the perpetration of dating violence. Developing a better understanding of the interplay between controlled and automatic cognitive processes, as well as examining other possible ways to address aggressive automatic

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