Men who engaged in domestic violence consistently overestimated how common such behavior is, and the more they overestimated it the more they engaged in abusing their partner, a new research conducted at the University of Washington has shown.
"We don't know why men make these over-estimations, but there are a couple of likely reasons. Men who engage in violent behavior justify it in their mind by thinking it is more common and saying, 'Most guys slap their women around so it is OK to engage in it.' Or it could be that mis-perceptions about violence cause the behavior," said Clayton Neighbors, lead author of a paper.
"Another way of looking at this would be wearing a red shirt. If you think everyone is wearing a red shirt then it is okay for you to wear one too. Or if you wear a red shirt you might overestimate the number of other people who are wearing red shirts," he added.
The work is the first to document overestimation of intimate partner violence by batterers and is consistent with findings about a variety of other harmful behaviors such as substance use, gambling and eating disorders.
The research looked at 124 men who were enrolled in a larger treatment intervention study for domestic violence.
The men, all of whom had participated in violence against a partner in the previous 90 days, were asked to estimate the percentage of men who had ever engaged in seven forms of abuse.
These included throwing something at a partner that could hurt; pushing, grabbing or shoving a partner; slapping or hitting; choking; beating up a partner; threatening a partner with a gun; and forcing a partner have sex when they did not want to.
Data on the percentage of men who actually engaged in these abusive behaviors were drawn from the National Violence Against Women Survey, funded by the National Institute of Justice and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In every case the men vastly overestimated the actual instances of abuse.
The study has been published in a spring issue of the journal Violence Against Women.