Gender symmetry in intimate aggression: an effect of intimacy or target sex?



Men's greater use of direct aggression is not evident in studies of intimate partner aggression. In previous research, the effects of target sex and relationship intimacy have frequently been confounded. This study sought to examine these effects separately. One hundred and seventy-four participants (59 male and 115 female) read vignette scenarios in which they were provoked by a same-sex best friend, an opposite-sex best friend, and a partner. For each target, participants estimated their likely use of direct physical and verbal aggression as well as noninjurious forms of anger expression. Results showed that men lower their aggression in the context of an intimate partnership and that this is an effect of the target's sex. In contrast, women raise their aggression in the context of an intimate partnership and this is an effect of intimacy with the target. The use of noninjurious angry behavior did not vary between targets for either sex of the participant, which suggests that the effects of target are confined to behaviors which carry an intention to harm. Possible effects of social norms and oxytocin-mediated emotional disinhibition on intimate partner aggression are discussed. Aggr. Behav. 37:268–277, 2011. © 2011 Wiley-Liss, Inc.