Dominance Orientations and Psychological Aggression in College Student Relationships: A Test of an Attachment Theory-Guided Model

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Objective: Adult attachment theory provides a unique framework for understanding psychological aggression in college student relationships; however, little is known about how attachment dimensions (anxiety and avoidance) are connected to specific forms of psychological aggression. The present study tested a model connecting attachment dimensions to 4 distinct forms of psychological aggression: restrictive engulfment, hostile withdrawal, denigration, and dominance-intimidation. The study also examined the mediating role of dominance orientations in the attachment-aggression connections. Method: Nine hundred and 8 college students (366 male and 542 female) who reported they were currently in a relationship lasting at least 6 months completed self-report questionnaires online at a large Midwest university. Results: After controlling for socially desirable responding and current levels of psychological abuse victimization, structural equation modeling indicated that the model was an acceptable fit to the data for men and women separately. Adult attachment anxiety was associated positively with all 4 domains of psychological aggression in the female sample and with restrictive engulfment in the male sample. By contrast, adult attachment avoidance was positively associated with hostile withdrawal in both samples and with denigration in the male sample but was complexly related to restrictive engulfment. Bootstrap analyses indicated that dominance orientations significantly mediated the associations between attachment and all 4 forms of psychological aggression in both samples. Conclusions: Study findings highlight the importance of examining attachment-driven needs for relational control in mixed-gender samples and suggest that specific psychologically aggressive behaviors may have distinct attachment-related motivations.

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