Psychologists at the University of Arkansas’s Center for Research on Aggression and Violence (CRAV) who are currently investigating domestic violence have discovered that men who beat women fall into three main “types” of offenders. Such insight may eventually lead to improved treatment methodologies and the possibility of early intervention.
Jeffrey Lohr began researching this topic in the mid 1990s in response to the idea that men who batter women may not represent a single homogenous group but instead may be composed of several distinct personality types. Along with former graduate student Kevin Hamburger of the Department of Community and Family Medicine at the Medicine College of Wisconsin, Lohr investigated the personality characteristics of a group of 800 male court-referred domestic violence offenders in the state of Wisconsin.
These men completed several questionnaires, including the Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory (MCMI) — designed to detect various character disorders, and also measures of anger and depression. Statistical analysis of the data revealed three main “types” of offenders. The first of these groups is composed of psychopathic men.
Psychopathy is a personality trait marked by a lack of empathy and poor impulse control. Almost everyone has the trait to some extent, but it appears to be concentrated in some individuals more than in others, Lohr states. These men have frequent run-ins with the law for both violent and non-violent offences. Men in this category tend to use drugs and alcohol. They are also more likely to have been abused themselves as children compared to men in the other two groups.
The second type of abusers have non-characterizable personality disorders but appear to be “chronically angry, unhappy, have problems with drugs and alcohol use, but are not psychopathic,” explains Lohr. These men tend to have the most extensive police records for both family oriented and non-family oriented violence, as well as a myriad of other criminal offences. “These men tend to be generally violent individuals, and their wives just happen to be there,” Lohr said. The third distinct type of domestic violence perpetrator comprises individuals with no identifiable character disorders but, unlike the other two groups, the men seem to limit their violence to their families. “They tend to be depressed and unhappy, but do not show obvious or severe personality problems,” says Lohr, referring to the fact that these men appear to function normally in all other aspects of their lives. “This is the group that we are interested in discovering the psychological variables that lead these otherwise normal men to beat their wives.”
These men, like those in the first group, may also display a heightened degree of psychopathy compared to the average population, explains Lohr. Lohr and his colleagues want to investigate exactly how far down the developmental sequence psychopathy extends in order to investigate its relationship with other personality characteristics and attitudes commonly associated with domestic violence. The main focus of this research remains on the possibility for improved treatment and intervention.
As a first step in testing whether these perpetrator categories could be a useful tool for clinicians, 12 individual profiles typifying each category have been sent to trained clinical psychologists to see if they can sort them into the appropriate groups. This is done because these categories must first be identifiable by those in the position to provide treatment in order to be useful.
Such categories may ultimately facilitate the treatment of domestic violence offenders by maximizing the match between therapy and client characteristics. “If there are three distinct types of perpetrators, then a “one size fits all” therapy approach may not be the most effective approach,” emphasizes Lohr. “There has really been very little research done in this area, so it will be awhile before any new therapy techniques are actually realized.” For women getting involved in a romantic relationship Lohr offers the following advice: “I wish there was a litmus test, but there isn’t. However there are some red flags. Get a clear personal history on your partner- if there is a strong indication of past impulse control problems, psychopathy, chronic anger, or drug and alcohol use, run away and run away fast.”