Presentation on theme: "Optimism in Women Reporting Relationship Abuse Histories Sarah L. Hastings & Trisha Nash Department of Psychology, Radford University, Radford, Virginia."— Presentation transcript:
Optimism in Women Reporting Relationship Abuse Histories Sarah L. Hastings & Trisha Nash Department of Psychology, Radford University, Radford, Virginia Theoretical Background Abstract Results. Printing Supported by the RU Honors Academy This study examined levels of optimism in women who reported a history of abuse, including physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. Optimism was conceptualized both as a measure of generalized positive expectancy, and as a function of explanatory style. It was hypothesized that those participants who were involved in abusive relationships would have a more negative general expectancy level, a more pessimistic explanatory style and would score higher on measures of hopelessness. The study found that a history of abuse was associated with general negative expectations in life, but not with a pessimistic explanatory style. The measure of hopelessness was also not correlated to a statistically significant degree. In terms of sexual orientation, 97% were straight, 1% were gay or lesbian, 2% were bisexual. Fifty-eight percent indicated they were in a committed relationship of at least 3 months duration, while forty-two were not in committed relationships at the time of the study. Twenty-five percent stated they were involved in an abusive relationship, with emotional abuse identified as the most common form. Of those reporting abuse, only 1 indicated current abuse in her relationship. In addition to demographics, participants completed a questionnaire which assessed the following: Generalized positive expectancy. The Life Orientation Test-Revised (LOT-R) is a measure of generalized optimism versus pessimism (Scheier & Carver, 1992). Possible scores range from 6-30. Explanatory style. The Attributional Style Questionnaire (ASQ) measures optimism as an attributional style (Peterson et al., 1982). Possible scores range from -18 to +18. Methodology Discussion. We examined the association between participant scores on the LOT-R, the ASQ, the hopelessness subscale of the ASQ, and participants’ reports of abuse history. The mean scores were as follows: LOT-R (x=21.05, SD=4.28), ASQ (x=3.44, SD=2.44), hopelessness (x=4.07, SD=.682). Of the 265 participants, 25 percent reported abuse in a current or past relationship. Women with a history of abuse scored lower on the LOT-R, indicating that they reported a reduced overall general positive expectancy (r =-.131, p <.05). No significant relationship between history of abuse and negative explanatory style, as measured by the ASQ (r =.115) was found. Similarly, there was no significant relationship between abuse history and hopelessness, as measured by the ASQ (r = -.062). We also examined history of abuse and hopefulness, a subscale of the ASQ, but found no significance (r =.031). These results indicate that women reporting a history of relationship abuse differed from women without a history of relationship abuse in optimism when it was measured as generalized expectancy. The two groups did not differ significantly when optimism was measured as an explanatory style. Table 1 Correlations Between Abuse History and Test Scores *p<.05; **p<.01; N range 236-359 (N ranges varied from 236-259 due to missing data) Alphas are reported on the diagonal Means (SD) LOT-RASQhopelessness Abuse in relationship 1.25 (.43)-.13*.12-.06 LOT-R21.05 (4.28) (.76).15*-.04 ASQ3.44 (2.44) (.73)-.51** hopelessness4.07 (.68) (.66) The association between abuse history and optimism was statistically significant, though small. Women with a history of abuse displayed more generalized pessimism, suggesting that these women anticipate less favorable outcomes for themselves. Importantly, however, abuse history was not associated with a negative explanatory style or with levels of hopelessness as measured by the ASQ. It is curious to consider why women with a history of relationship abuse anticipate less favorable outcomes overall, but do not display a pessimistic attributional style, As a generalized expectancy, optimism as described by Carver and Scheier(1981) is displayed by individuals as long as they view their goals as attainable. If, however, goals exceed their reach, individuals tend to exhibit reduced ambition and increased disengagement from goal- seeking. Optimism, when conceptualized as attributional style, describes differences in the way people explain good and bad events in their lives. Thus, in our sample, women with a history of relationship abuse did not differ markedly from women without this history. Our findings suggest that abuse history is associated with generalized negative expectancies. Given the correlational nature of this study, we are confronted with the “chicken and egg” problem. Does a history of abuse lead women to expect less favorable outcomes for themselves, or are women with negative expectations more vulnerable to abusive relationships because they do not expect more? Further research using a longitudinal design to examine optimism and relationship involvement over time will help clarify the direction of the associations observed in this study. There are limitations that our study presents. Our sample was allowed to define “abuse” in their own terms. Future research should operationalize abuse fin items presented to participants. In addition, the sample in this study was rather homogenous and of a relatively young age. It would be helpful to examine a more diverse sample in future studies. Participants were 265 undergraduate female students at a mid-sized public university in the southeastern United States, who responded to an online questionnaire administered in a campus computer lab. The mean age was 19.74. Of the sample, 83% identified their ethnicity as Caucasian/White, 7.5% identified themselves as African American, 1.5 % as Hispanic, and 8 % as “Other.” Women who have experienced abuse are at an increased risk for a number of mental and physical health conditions (Orava, McLeod, and Sharpe, 1996; Plichta, 1996). Yet, a growing body of literature suggests that personal characteristics as well as social supports, may buffer women from the effects of traumatic events. Optimism and hope, for example, have been linked with positive health and recovery, and may serve as protective factors against trauma (Peterson, 2000). Recent interest in positive psychology and stress-related growth have led some scholars to call for a greater integration of these concepts into the mainstream study of trauma and violence (Ai & Park, 2005). Understanding the links between optimism and trauma promises to help researchers understand how individuals rebuild their lives after traumatic events. Further, it may help illuminate factors contributing to women’s ability to terminate an intimate relationship that becomes violent, and assist other women in avoiding violent partners altogether. Our research team became interested in the links between optimism and relationship violence among university women. Humphrey and White (2000) found that 69.8% of college women reported at least 1 account of sexual violence during adolescence and through their college years. Women who were physically assaulted during adolescence were at greater risk for violence during college. The authors concluded there is a need for further study regarding factors that reduce victimization. This study examined the association between relationship abuse and levels of optimism. Optimism was conceptualized both as a generalized positive expectancy and as a measure of explanatory style. Participants reported on a number of relationship variables including history of abuse. In addition, they completed two measures of optimism, the LOT-R (Scheier & Carver, 1992) and the ASQ (Peterson, C., Semmel, Al, von Baeyer, C., Abramson, L. Y., Metalsky, G. I., & Seligman, M. E. P., 1982).