Spouse abusers are calm, study finds

September 13, 1993|By Seattle Post-Intelligencer

SEATTLE -- A new study on domestic violence challenges some conventional notions about the way couples in abusive relationships behave.

University of Washington researchers have found that the heart rates of the most aggressive husbands decrease as they begin arguing with their wives. Instead of lashing out in a rage, these men were calm and intently focused.

"The assumption has always been that these are the angriest, most out-of-control guys," psychology Professor Neil Jacobson said. "Our results indicate they are very much in control."

While experts on domestic violence have long said that some men appear to be very calm and deliberate in their actions, the study is the first to substantiate that belief with measurement of a physiological response.

The research team, headed by Mr. Jacobson and psychology professor John Gottman, also found that despite being beaten, women in abusive marriages were not submissive. While there was nothing in the study to suggest that battered women provoke their husband's violent behavior, they could be every bit as contemptuous as men during arguments.

Once the violence began, researchers found, the women were powerless to stop it. Nothing they did, whether it was fighting back or withdrawing, made any difference.

Experts say up to half of all women are assaulted at least once during their married lives.

The university study, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, was conducted over four years with 57 moderately to severely violent couples and a control group of 32 couples with unhappy but nonviolent marriages.

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