Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Why do some men insult their partners?

Men who habitually insult their wives or girlfriends do so, somewhat paradoxically, as part of a broader strategy to prevent them from leaving for someone else – what evolutionary psychologists call 'mate retention'.

Steve Stewart-Williams and colleagues asked 245 men (average age 29 years) to report how many times in the last month they had insulted their partner using one or more examples from a list of 47 insults, arranged into 4 categories: physical insults, insults about personal value or mental capacity (e.g. “I called my partner an idiot”), accusations of sexual infidelity, and derogating their value as a person (e.g. “I told my partner she will never amount to anything”).

The men were also asked to report their use of 104 mate-retention behaviours, such as whether they became jealous when their partner went out without them, and whether they checked up on where their partner said they would be at a given time.

The men who insulted their partners more also tended to engage in more mate-retention behaviours. A similar association was found in a second experiment in which a separate sample of 372 women were asked to say how often their partners insulted them, and how often they engaged in mate-retention behaviours. The researchers said insults might serve a mate-retention function, by making a “woman feel that she cannot secure a better partner, with the result that she is less likely to defect from the relationship.”

Past research has shown that men who engage in mate-retention behaviours are more likely to be violent towards their partners. This study appears to support that research by showing that such men are also more likely to use what might be considered verbal violence.

The researchers said that future research should also focus on the extent of women's use of partner-directed insults and the function they serve.
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McKibbin, W.F., Goetz, A.T, Shackelford, T.K., Schipper, L.D., Starratt, V.G. & Stewart-Williams, S. (2007). Why do men insult their intimate partners? Personality and Individual Differences, 231-241.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

Link to related Digest item.

10 comments:

Editor said...

Very interesting and insightful piece of research!!

Mauro
URL: http://jspsciences.blogspot.com/

Anonymous said...

It would be more interesting to see all the insults and all the MRB's used in this study. The ones shown here seem pretty jerky, and so it is little surprise that insecure men mentally and emotionally abuse women to keep them around.

Editor said...

However, it is still important to understand wider socio-political and economic factors affecting mens' attitudes towards women, as opposed to focus upon 'men' as the source of the problem.


Mauro
URL: http://jspsciences.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

This seems to be the pretense of David Deangelo's (The proprietor of a product called Double Your Dating) method of attracting women.

cantubury-health mediator said...

unfortunately, many men have been abused by their fathers, because dad though it would "make him a man" and he would "touch it out" and praise was out of the question so it is just passed on to women who stand for the abuse while their self esteem heads down the toilet. this culture, the western seems to have respect for only one thing: money, not people of either gender

Anonymous said...

This is a very great article. It would be even more interesting if it covered women's insults to their partners and mate retention behaviour - because of course mate retention is a two way street.

Anonymous said...

my husband insults me every day he calls me names he calls me stupid he calls me sloppy he tells me that he is better than me he always say that im sleeping with other ppl he is just crazy but i wish it would change

GOOD HEARTED GAL,KNOWS HOW YOU FEEL said...

he insults you because he dont want you to leave ,you know inside of you your beautiful and a kind person and he sees that ..dont worry sweety your special and he has the problem,and i know you proberly finds it hard to leave....but you well,maybe not tomorrow,or the next day but dont change who you are ok...your not the only one. BIG HUG TO YOU!

Anonymous said...

I was recently dating a man who was abused by his alcoholic father growing up. The father was violent to the mother as well. After two or three months, he started to insult me making comments about my appearance and saying he was going to pick up younger women and this progressed steadily until I stopped returning his text messages and he got the hint. The weird thing is that until I read this article, I thought he wanted to end the relationship and was too afraid to do it himself so he made me do it. I thought his text messages after that to see how much he could get away with as some sick game. He was also very jealous and protective telling me that I went out too much and keeping tabs on me when I was with my girlfriends. The sad thing is that he is a great guy with a lot of problems due to his abusive upbringing. Was this just a way to keep me as a girlfriend?

Anonymous said...

This is also common in men who were abused by their mothers too and/or if their mothers cheated on their fathers and had their manstresses' children. Men are also more likely to be abusive and controlling when they have mothers that cheat on their fathers.

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