Sex Roles, Vol. 51, Nos. 9/10, November 2004 (
Dating Violence Attributions: Do They Differ
for In-Group and Out-Group Members Who
Have a History of Dating Violence?
Lisa A. Harrison
and Golee Abrishami
In this research we examined the inﬂuence of in-group bias and dating violence history on
dating violence attributions. Participants were 113 college students (97 women and 16 men;
age M = 21.9). They read a vignette that depicted dating violence and then completed a ques-
tionnaire concerning the assault. The couple was described as either part of the participants’
in-group or the participants’ out-group. The dating violence was described as either a ﬁrst-
time event for the couple or a repeated act of violence. Participants formed more lenient
attributions for the in-group assailant than for the out-group assailant, but only if he was
a ﬁrst-time assailant rather than a repeat assailant. In addition, participants attributed less
blame to the in-group victim than to the out-group victim, but only if she was a repeat victim
of dating violence. These ﬁndings are examined in relation to in-group bias.
KEY WORDS: dating violence; in-group bias; social identity theory; history of violence.
Researchers who study various forms of in-
terpersonal violence (e.g., domestic violence, child
abuse, elder abuse) agree that dating violence is
a serious offense that warrants careful exploration.
Because of methodological problems in the opera-
tionalization and measurement of dating violence, it
is difﬁcult to estimate the actual prevalence of dating
violence. However, Lewis and Fremouw’s (2001) re-
view of the literature suggests that between 21 and
45% of college students have experienced at least
one incident of dating violence. Although obtaining
reliable estimates of prevalence rates is important,
many researchers are now examining what factors
predict dating violence (Lewis & Fremouw, 2001;
Makepeace, 1987; O’Keefe, 1998), beliefs about the
consequences of dating violence (Carlson, 1996),
Portions of this work were presented at the annual meeting of the
American Psychological Society, New Orleans, LA, June 2002.
Department of Psychology, Brigham Young University, Provo,
To whom correspondence should be addressed at Department of
Psychology, California State University, Sacramento 95819-6007,
California; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
and the development of programs that will aid in
the prevention of dating violence (Avery-Leaf &
Cascardi, 2002; Weisz & Black, 2001). Conversely,
there has been relatively little research on factors
that inﬂuence causal attributions of dating violence.
The present research is an examination of how two
factors (i.e., social group membership and assailant
history) shape casual attributions of dating violence.
Perceptions of Dating Violence
Research has shown that several factors mod-
erate perceptions of dating violence. For example,
Cauffman, Feldman, Jensen, and Arnett (2000) com-
pared college students’ attitudes toward violence
against peers and dates. Although they found that
violence against peers was perceived as unaccept-
able, dating violence was considered even less ac-
ceptable than peer violence. However, Bethke and
DeJoy (1993) found that college students were more
accepting of dating violence when the violence took
place within a serious relationship rather than a
casual relationship. Furthermore, recent research
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