Gender Role Attitudes, Religion, and Spirituality as Predictors of Domestic Violence Attitudes in White College Students

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Gender Role Attitudes, Religion, and Spirituality as Predictors of Domestic Violence Attitudes in White College Students

Date: March 1, 2004 Publication: Journal of College Student Development Author: Berkel, LaVerne A; Vandiver, Beverly J; Bahner, Angela D

In this study we investigated gender role attitudes, religion, and spirituality as predictors of beliefs about violence against women in a sample of 316 White college students. Results indicated that gender role attitudes were the best overall predictor of domestic violence beliefs. Spirituality also contributed to the models for men and women. Implications and intervention strategies to address dating violence among college students are discussed.

In recent years, increasing attention has been given to the incidence of dating and courtship violence among college and university students (Roscoe, 1985; Stacy, Schandel, Flannery, Conlon, & Milardo, 1994; Stickel & Ellis, 1993). Relationship violence in the residence halls is more common than many school personnel would like to admit but too often is ignored or denied (Rickgarn, 1989). Studies have shown that about 20% of college men and women reported being involved in a physically violent intimate relationship (Luthra & Gidyez, 2001; Makepeace, 1986; Silverman & Williamson, 1997). Because courtship violence may lead to serious injury or premature death among adolescents and college students (Moskowitz, Griffith, DiScala, & Sege, 2002) or may continue into marriage relationships (Makepeace, 1981), it is important to better understand attitudes that support violence against women. The purpose of the current study was to investigate some of the variables that may be associated with attitudes that support violence against women among college students. We were particularly interested in the roles of spirituality, religiosity, and gender role attitudes in explaining beliefs about domestic violence in White college students.

Dating Violence Among College Students

A review of the literature revealed that a growing number of researchers have investigated dating violence among college students. Some of these have examined the prevalence as well as the correlates of violence (Bowman & Morgan, 1998; Silverman & Williamson, 1997). Silverman and Williamson investigated the contributions of family and peer variables to battering by heterosexual college men. They found that almost 1 in 4 men reported battering either a current or previous female partner. Twenty percent of these men (4% of the total sample) reported using severe forms of battering, such as kicking, biting, or punching. In another recent study, Luthra and Gidyez (2001) investigated intimate partner violence among unmarried college women. They found that 21% of these women reported having been physically assaulted by either a current or former romantic partner. Researchers at one university compared rates of violence in 1982 to those in 1992 and reported a dramatic increase in several types of violence (Stacy et al., 1994), resulting in 1 in 5 students reporting that they had committed some act of violence in a recent relationship. These statistics closely match the prediction made by Makepeace (1981) that 1 in 5 students will become involved in a physically abusive relationship while in college. These prevalence rates indicate that courtship violence among college students is a serious issue that deserves further attention. In attempting to better understand the attitudes that may support the use of violence against women, some have investigated gender role attitudes and religion.

Gender Role Attitudes

Besides sex (Finn, 1986; Saunders, Lynch, Grayson, & Linz, 1987), the most consistent predictor of attitudes that support the use of violence against women among college students or any other group is gender role attitudes, defined as beliefs about appropriate roles for men and women (McHugh & Frieze, 1997). Gender role attitudes are best conceptualized as falling on a continuum, ranging from traditional to egalitarian. Individuals with traditional attitudes are characterized as responding to others based on stereotypical characteristics associated with their sex, whereas individuals with egalitarian attitudes respond to others independent of their sex (King, Beere, King, & Beere, 1981).

Gender role attitudes have been extensively studied in the empirical literature (Bryant, 2003; McGovern & Meyers, 2002). Positive relationships have been found between traditional sex role attitudes and negative attitudes toward women and the acceptance of rape myths. For example, in a landmark study, Burt (1980) reported that individuals who had more stereotypical gender role attitudes were more likely than those with egalitarian attitudes to endorse rape myths. This finding was replicated by Mayerson and Taylor (1987), who reported that individuals with stereotypical gender role attitudes were more accepting of rape myths and the use of physical and sexual violence than those with egalitarian attitudes. Similarly, Finn (1986) reported that for the 300 college students in his study, those who endorsed the most traditional gender role attitudes were more likely to endorse the use of force in marriage. Willis, Hallinan, and Melby (1996) found that individuals who espoused stereotypical gender role attitudes were more likely to blame the victim and less likely to see the seriousness in domestic violence scenarios. More recently, traditional gender role attitudes in a sample of adolescents were also associated with less perceived seriousness of scenarios depicting interpersonal aggression (Hilton, Harris, & Rice, 2003).


In addition to gender role attitudes, several scholars have investigated the association between religiousness and domestic violence. Research concerning the relationship between these two variables is conflicting. On one hand, some have reported that regular attendance at religious services is inversely related to the incidence of domestic violence. For example, Ellison and Anderson (2001) analyzed data from the National Survey of Families and Households and found that those who attended services more often reported less spousal abuse. They reported that this relationship held even after controlling for factors such as substance abuse and social support. Similarly, Brinkerhoff, Grandin, and Lupri (1992) investigated the influence of church attendance and religious denomination on spousal violence. They found no association between religious denomination and spousal abuse and reported a weak and curvilinear relationship between church attendance and spousal violence.

On the other hand, others have found that Judeo-Christian beliefs are consistent with male dominance. For example, Jeffords (1984) argued that these beliefs contribute to a patriarchal system that assigns women a subordinate role to men. He investigated relationships among gender role attitudes, religious orthodoxy, and beliefs about forced marital intercourse and found that those who held traditional gender role attitudes and those who reported religious orthodoxy were more likely to endorse the use of forced marital intercourse than those with egalitarian gender role attitudes or those who did not report religious orthodoxy. He also reported that traditional gender role attitudes were positively associated with the religious variables in his study.

Other scholars have also found that gender role attitudes covary with religious attitudes and behaviors. St. Lawrence and Joyner (1991) used Allport and Ross's (1967) conceptualization of intrinsic and extrinsic religious motivation to investigate relationships between religious motivation and stereotypical views of sex roles. According to Allport and Ross, individuals with an intrinsic orientation toward religion are said to "live" their religion (their religion is what lies behind their whole approach to life), whereas those with an extrinsic religious motivation "use" their religion for some personal gain, such as relief or comfort. St. Lawrence and Joyner reported that for the college men in their sample, those who had an intrinsic religious orientation were less likely to endorse stereotypical views of men and women, whereas those with an extrinsic religious orientation were more likely to endorse prejudicial attitudes toward women. Likewise, religious commitment has been found to be related to attitudes toward gender roles, with devout college senior women endorsing more traditional attitudes toward gender roles than those who were less religiously committed (Morgan, 1987).

In aggregate these findings suggest: (a) that relationships exist among gender role attitudes, religious variables, and beliefs about aggression toward women; however, because gender role attitudes often covary with religious attitudes, the unique relationship between each of these two variables and attitudes supporting violence against women may be masked or exaggerated; and (b) that religiousness is multifaceted, with different aspects of religiousness potentially relating differently to gender role attitudes and attitudes supporting violence against women. In this study we were interested in determining whether religiousness accounted for unique variance in attitudes supporting violence against women above that accounted for by gender role attitudes. We were also interested in examining whether the different ways of being religious (e.g., religious motivation, religious attendance, religious affiliation) differed in their relationships with attitudes supporting violence against women among college students. A unique aspect of this study is that in addition to investigating the role of different religious variables in predicting attitudes toward domestic violence, we also examined the potential role of spirituality in predicting attitudes supportive of violence against women.


Spirituality has received increased empirical attention in the psychological literature (for a review see George, Larson, Koenig, & McCullough, 2000). Defined as the degree to which individuals endorse a relationship with God or a transcendent force that brings meaning and purpose to their existence, spirituality affects the way one operates in the world (Armstrong, 1996). Research in this area has consistently shown evidence of positive associations between spirituality and both mental and physical health (see Larson & Larson, 2003), but we found no published investigations of relationships between spirituality and attitudes supporting the use of violence against women. The inclusion of spirituality in these investigations may expand the understanding of variables that influence attitudes toward interpersonal violence in relationships.

Like religiosity, spirituality also is multifaceted. For example, MacDonald (2000) identified five aspects of spirituality, including a cognitive orientation toward spirituality, an experiential/phenomenological dimension, existential well-being, paranormal beliefs, and religiousness. Armstrong (1996) also reported that spirituality has several components, including spiritual beliefs, spiritual characteristics, spiritual actions, and religious experiences.

The Current Study

In this study we were interested in determining the unique variance of religious and spiritual beliefs, above and beyond gender role attitudes, in predicting attitudes supportive of violence toward women. We expected to find the following: (a) traditional gender role attitudes would be positively associated with attitudes supporting the use of violence against women; (b) extrinsic religious orientation would be positively associated and intrinsic religious motivation negatively associated with the endorsement of violence against women; and (c) spiritual actions would be negatively associated with attitudes supporting the use of violence against women.



Data were collected from 316 White (211 women and 105 men) students attending a large, predominantly White public land-grant university located in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. Of the approximately 40,000 students enrolled at this rural university, roughly half are female, about 80% are White, and about 18% are graduate or professional students. The participants' ages ranged from 17 to 49 years (M = 20.50 years, SD =3.82). Most of the respondents (n = 299, 95%) were single, heterosexual (n = 286, 91%), and described themselves as affiliated with a specific religious denomination (e.g., Catholic or Baptist; n = 225, 71%). On average, they attended 21 religious services annually (Range = 0 to 104, SD = 28). Two hundred eighteen (69%) participants designated themselves as freshmen, sophomores, or juniors, 48 (15%) were seniors or beginning graduate students, and 22 (7%) were advanced graduate students. Twenty-eight students either omitted their academic class level or answered the item incorrectly.


Participants were recruited primarily from large introductory sociology courses. These courses were selected because the students enrolled in them are generally representative of the broad range of academic majors offered by the university. In addition to the undergraduate sociology courses, students from counselor education and study skills courses were also recruited to ensure a sufficient number of participants. As incentives, some professors offered extra credit and all students were eligible to enter a random drawing for one of five $50 cash prizes. The research packet took approximately 40 minutes to complete.


In addition to an explanation of the study, a consent form, and a raffle form, participants also received a demographic questionnaire and the research instruments.

Demographic sheet. The participants recorded their age, marital status, race/ ethnicity, sexual orientation, and years of education on a one-page demographic sheet. Information about religious participation and affiliation was also collected via this demographic questionnaire.

Sex Role Egalitarianism Scale Form KK (SRES-KK) (King & King, 1990). The SRES-KK is a 25-item instrument that measures beliefs about appropriate roles (equality vs. inequality) for men and women across five domains of adult life: (a) marital roles, (b) parental roles, (c) employment roles, (d) social-interpersonal-heterosexual roles, and (e) educational roles (King & King). The scale uses a Likert-type scale, ranging from 1 (strongly agree) to 5 (strongly disagree), with a possible summed score ranging from 25 to 125. Higher scores are interpreted to reflect more egalitarian gender role attitudes. The SRES-KK is considered to be a good approximation of the longer 90-item SRES-K; internal consistency estimates for the SRES-KK scores are reported to be in the .90 range (see King & King and Scandura, Tejeda, & Lankau, 1995), and a 3-week test-retest reliability for the SRES-KK scores were reported to be .88 (King & King). Stith (1986) reported nonsignificant correlations between an alternate long form of the SRES and the Marlowe-Crowne Social Desirability Scale (Crowne & Marlowe, 1964). Honeck(1981) and Jaffa (1985) reported that the SRES has a high correlation (e.g., .86) with the Attitudes Toward Women Scale (Spence & Helmreich, 1972). The SRES has been used to predict attitudes supporting marital violence (Stith, 1990). The Cronbach's alpha reliability coefficient for scores on the SRES-KK for the current sample was .91.

Inventory of Beliefs About Wife Beating (IBWB) (Saunders et al., 1987). The IBWB is a 31-item scale designed to measure attitudes about the appropriateness of violence by husbands toward their wives. Saunders et al. conducted three studies to develop the IBWB. In the first study, five factors based on university students' IBWB scores were identified through exploratory factor analysis and formed the basis for IBWB subscales: Wife Beating Is Justified (WJ, 12 items), Wives Gain From Beatings (WG, 7 items), Help Should Be Given (HG, 5 items), Offender Is Responsible (OR, 3 items), and Offender Should Be Punished (OP, 4 items). Saunders et al. also found in the first study that the IBWB subscale scores of college students correlated significantly (p < .001) with scores on Butt's (1980) Rape Myth Acceptance Scale.

Further support for the construct validity of the IBWB scale was established in the second and third studies (Saunders et al., 1987). In the sample of university students, four of the five IBWB subscale scores were significantly correlated with Burt's (1980) Sex-Role Stereotyping Scale in the expected directions; respondents with traditional gender role attitudes tended to endorse wife beating. Likewise, all five subscales of the IBWB were significantly correlated with scores on the Attitudes Toward Women Scale (Spence, Helmreich, & Stapp, 1973) and three (WJ, WG, and HG) were correlated with a scale measuring Hostility Toward Women (Check & Malamuth, 1983), in the expected directions. Saunders et al. compared IBWB scores of college students, victim advocates, and male batterers and reported that they differed significantly from each other, further supporting the construct validity of the instrument. As expected, scores of the women advocates and male batterers fell in the extreme opposite directions and the student scores fell between the women advocates and male batterers. Saunders et al. reported internal consistency estimates for the IBWB scores that ranged from .61 (OP) to .86 (WJ), with a median coefficient of .77.

Thirty of the 31 items on the scale are scored on a Likert-type scale, ranging from 1 (strongly agree) to 7 (strongly disagree). Summed subscale scores were created so that higher scores on WJ, WG, and HG indicate greater endorsement of the use of violence by husbands against their wives. Conversely, higher scores on the OR and OP subscales indicate greater disapproval of violence by husbands against their wives. In the current study, only the WJ, WG, and HG subscales were used because of the low reliability coefficients reported by the scale developers on the other two subscale scores (OP = .61 and OR= .62; Saunders et al., 1987). The Cronbach's alpha reliability coefficient for scores on the WJ, WG, and HG subscales for the current sample were .86, .78, and .73, respectively.

The Armstrong Measure of Spirituality (AMOS) (Armstrong, 1996). The AMOS was developed with four main goals: (a) to reflect the multidimensionality of spirituality; (b) to examine the influence of a person's relationship with God on his/her relationships with others; (c) to explore the associations among the different dimensions of spiritual attitudes, behaviors, and experiences; and (d) to acknowledge cultural differences in how individuals and groups experience their relationships with God.

The instructions on the AMOS ask participants to respond to the items based on their "preferred reference to the Transcendent" (e.g., God, Supreme Force, Allah; Armstrong, 1996, p. 108). The items of the AMOS are scored on a Likert-type scale, ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). Higher scores on each of the subscales indicate greater levels of spirituality. The 20-item Spiritual Beliefs subscale measures the spiritual beliefs held by respondents' (e.g., "1 believe in miracles"; "God is powerful enough to accomplish anything"). The Spiritual Characteristics scale has 20 items and measures the emotional states of respondents, believed to be related to their level of spirituality (e.g., "I worry a lot"). The Spiritual Actions scale includes 10 items and measures the attitudes toward the treatment of others ("It is important to help those in need"). Finally, the Religious Experiences subscale contains 8 items and assesses the spiritual experiences of respondents (e.g., "I have experienced a vision"). Higher scores on each of the subscales indicate greater levels of spirituality. Construct validity of the instrument is evidenced by the expected correlations between several of the four AMOS subscales and measures of mental health. For example, the Spiritual Characteristics subscale was found to correlate positively with self-esteem and psychological adjustment and negatively with depression (Armstrong).

In the current study, only the Spiritual Beliefs and Spiritual Actions subscales were included because these aspects of spirituality were deemed most relevant to the research questions. The Cronbach's alpha reliability coefficient for scores on the Spiritual Actions and Spiritual Beliefs subscales for the current sample were .71 and .95, respectively.

The Religious Orientation Scale (ROS) (Allport & Ross, 1967). The ROS measures both intrinsic and extrinsic religious motivation. Individuals who are extrinsically oriented are said to use their religion for some personal gain (affiliation, socialization), whereas those who are intrinsically oriented live rather than use their religion (Allport & Ross). Since its creation, the ROS has been one of the most widely used measures of religiousness in psychological research (Donahue, 1985) because of its ability to capture different aspects of religiousness (intrinsic vs. extrinsic; Bergin, Masters, & Richards, 1987). Subsequent analyses of the items, however, revealed three rather than two subscales-one intrinsic scale and two extrinsic ones (Berkel, 2003; Genia, 1993; Leong & Zachar, 1990). Using Genia's scoring, scores on the 11-item intrinsic scale can range from 11 to 55 with higher scores indicating more intrinsic attitudes. The second scale is a 3-item measure of a personal extrinsic motivation toward religion. Scores can range from 3 to 15 with higher scores indicating that an individual is more likely to use religion for their personal benefit (e.g., comfort, peace). The third scale is a 3-item scale that measures a social extrinsic motivation for religion. Scores on this scale can range from 3 to 15 with higher scores indicating that an individual is motivated by the social rewards of religion (e.g., church is a good place to meet people). Reliability coefficients for the three scales of the ROS have been reported as .87, .63, and .62 (Leong & Zachar, 1990). In the current study the Cronbach's alpha reliability coefficients for the intrinsic, personal extrinsic, and social extrinsic scales were .87, .66, and .70, respectively.


Preliminary Analyses

Zero-order correlation analyses were conducted to examine the level of association among the study variables (see Table 1). Intrinsic religious orientation was very highly correlated with spiritual beliefs (r = .83). Religious affiliation was also correlated with spiritual beliefs (r = .49) and intrinsic religious orientation (r = .43), and number of religious services attended annually was correlated with intrinsic religious orientation (r = .63) and spiritual beliefs (r = .59). Finally, the three measures of domestic violence were significantly correlated with each other (r ≥ .48). Because of these significant correlations, several changes were made. According to the guidelines suggested by Tabachnick and Fidell (2001) for dealing with highly correlated independent variables, intrinsic religious orientation and spiritual beliefs were summed to form the new variable intrinsic + beliefs, number of religious services attended annually and religious affiliation were removed from further analyses, and the three subscales of the IBWB were combined per the instrument developers' instructions to form the Sympathy for Battered Women Scale.

The zero-order correlation analysis of the resulting variables is included in Table 2 along with the means, standard deviations, and reliability coefficients for scores obtained on each of the scales used in the regression analyses for men and women. An examination of the means for the domestic violence measure suggests that, in general, students disapproved of husbands using violence against their wives. Similarly, an average of the participants' scores on the SRES-KK (M = 108.45) was above the theoretical mean (M = 75) for the instrument, suggesting that overall, they tended to agree with egalitarian statements. However, the pattern of scores across all the measures indicated a potential sex difference on the gender role and domestic violence measures. We also found differences in patterns of responses on the religion and spirituality measures.

A one-way analysis of variance was conducted to test for significant sex differences on each of the variables because of the literature suggesting that sex covaries with the variables of interest (Finn, 1986). Because of unequal sample sizes in the groups, Levene's Test of Equality of Error Variance was conducted. The results of the Levene's test were significant for the following variables: sex role egalitarianism Levene (1, 312) = 20.41, p = .00, spiritual actions Levene (1, 309) = 10.66, p = .00, and sympathy for battered women Levene (1, 311) = 6.897, p = .01. Because of the inequality of the variance in these variables, in comparing means between men and women, the Welch test, a robust test of equality of means was used instead of the F statistic. Alpha was set at .008 (.05/6) to control for the number of comparisons that were conducted, which might inflate the Type I error rate. Statistically significant differences were obtained between men and women for the following variables: sex role egalitarianism, intrinsic orientation + spiritual beliefs, and spiritual actions. Therefore, the regression analyses were conducted separately for men and women. see Table 2 for the means, standard deviations, and Welch statistics for sex comparisons.

Gender Role Attitudes, Religiosity, and Spirituality: Predictors of Sympathy for Battered Women

We conducted two hierarchical multiple regression analyses to test the hypotheses. The criterion variable in each analysis was sympathy for battered women, and the predictor variables for each of the analyses were entered in the following order: (a) sex role egalitarianism, and (b) religiosity and spirituality variables: intrinsic religious orientation + spiritual beliefs, spiritual actions, personal extrinsic religious orientation, and social extrinsic religious orientation. Collinearity diagnostics for both the men and women showed tolerance values in the acceptable ranges according to the guidelines put forth by Hair, Anderson, Tathem, and Black (1995).

Results of the hierarchical multiple regression analyses for the women revealed that sympathy for battered women was predicted by sex role egalitarianism, F(1, 197) = 10.18, p = .00, R^sup 2^ = .05; the predictive power of the model improved significantly by adding the religious and spirituality variables, F(5, 193) = 4.11, p = .00, R^sup 2^ = .10; ΔR^sup 2^ = .05, ΔF(4, 193) = 2.52, p = .04. In the final model, sex role egalitarianism and spiritual actions were significant predictors of sympathy for battered women in that individuals who endorsed more egalitarian sex role attitudes and those scoring higher on the spiritual actions scale were more likely to sympathize with battered women. The religious and spirituality variables accounted for an additional 5% of the variance in sympathy for battered women beyond that accounted for by gender role attitudes.

Results of the hierarchical multiple regression analyses for the men revealed that sympathy for battered women was predicted by sex role egalitarianism, F(1, 97) = 34.05, p = .00, R^sup 2^ = .26; the predictive power of the model improved significantly by adding the religious and spirituality variables, F(5, 93) = 9.82, p = .00, R^sup 2^ = .35; ΔR^sup 2^ = .09, ΔF(4, 93) = 3.04, p = .02. In the final model, sex role egalitarianism and spiritual actions were the only significant predictors of sympathy for battered women. Men who endorsed more egalitarian gender role attitudes and those scoring higher on the spiritual actions scale were more likely to sympathize with battered women. The final model accounted for 35% of the variance in sympathy for battered women. See Table 3 for the results of the regression analyses.


The purpose of this study was to examine college students' gender role attitudes, religiosity, and spirituality as predictors of attitudes that support the use of violence against women. It is important to note that for the most part, the college students in the current study did not endorse the use of violence against women. They were also relatively egalitarian in their gender role attitudes. However, significant associations among the variables did exist. As expected, the women endorsed more egalitarian gender role attitudes than the men. This finding is consistent with the literature (Finn, 1986; Saunders et al., 1987). Although gender role socialization in this country affects both men and women, it is to women's advantage to replace the traditional gender role attitudes they have learned with more egalitarian ones, which espouse equal access to educational and occupational opportunities, among other privileges. Men, however, would have to relinquish some of the power assigned to them, a task with fewer obvious advantages (Finn, 1986).

Gender role egalitarianism was found to be the best predictor of attitudes supporting violence against women for the men and women in this study, with individuals who endorsed traditional gender role attitudes espousing relatively more support for the use of violence against women than those with egalitarian gender role attitudes. This finding is consistent with the literature (Stith, 1990). Individuals with traditional gender role attitudes may share some of the views of a traditional, patriarchal system and ideology "in which a woman was viewed as the property of her father and later of her husband" (Jeffords, 1984, p. 543). As "property," women had fewer rights, including the right to protection from an aggressive spouse. Individuals who support this type of sexual inequality may also support male domination, the subordination of women, and ultimately, the use of violence as a way for men to maintain power over women (Straus, 1977-1978). The magnitude of the effect of gender role attitudes on domestic violence attitudes reflects the very strong relationship between these two constructs, particularly for the men.

Another purpose of this study was to investigate whether students' religious and spiritual attitudes and behaviors would explain a significant proportion of the variance in domestic violence attitudes above that of gender role attitudes. Although the explanatory power of the model improved significantly by adding the religious and spirituality variables for both the men and women, only spiritual actions was found to have a significant relationship with domestic violence attitudes. It is not surprising that spiritual actions were positively correlated with sympathy for battered women. According to Armstrong (1996), spiritual actions reflect beliefs about how others should be treated. Based on a spiritual connection with God or the transcendent, spiritually minded individuals will be more likely to treat others with dignity and respect and to value helping others. This philosophy is inconsistent with the belief that anyone has the right to beat or in any other way mistreat another person.

Contrary to expectations, neither intrinsic nor extrinsic religious motivation was a significant predictor of domestic violence attitudes. Previous research showed significant correlations between an intrinsic or extrinsic religious orientation and attitudes toward women (Jeffords, 1984; St. Lawrence & Joyner, 1991). However, in the current study no such relationship was found for the men or for the women, suggesting that perhaps attitudes toward others based on one's religious or spiritual beliefs (i.e., spiritual actions) are more directly related to attitudes supporting violence against women than religious motivation in general.

The findings regarding religion and spirituality in the current study highlight the need for researchers and practitioners working with college students to recognize the multidimensionality of religious and spiritual beliefs among this group. As stated earlier, religiosity and spirituality, although related concepts for some, may be very different for others and may be differentially associated with other variables of interest such as attitudes supporting violence against women. Future research with college students should assess the multiple ways of being religious to adequately capture the complexity of relationships among religiosity, spirituality, and other variables of interest.

Implications and Future Directions

Dating and courtship violence on college campuses is a "major hidden social problem" (Makepeace, 1981, p. 100) that can affect 1 in 5 college students directly and can indirectly affect an even greater number. Because violence between partners in college can result in physical and emotional harm and continue into later relationships, strategies to reduce the incidence of courtship violence on college campuses must be implemented. In discussing ways to reduce and prevent violence in residence halls, Rickgarn (1989) suggested several steps. The first is for campus officials to make an honest assessment of the problem and not let the underreporting of dating violence lull administrators into thinking that the problem does not exist. Another important step is to train staff to recognize problems when they arise (Roscoe, 1985). In addition to staff, college and university faculty and peer educators should be trained to recognize problems with students and to make appropriate referrals to agencies on or off campus that can offer assistance. Finally, outreach programs and workshops should be developed that raise awareness of interpersonal violence, the attitudes that support it, and unequivocally communicate that violence between students will not be tolerated.

One study found that such programming was successful at reducing beliefs that violence against women was acceptable and that these effects lasted over time (O'Neal & Dorn, 1998). In another study, researchers evaluated a university-based program to combat rape-supportive attitudes (Shultz, Scherman, & Marshall, 2000). They reported that individuals in the treatment groups were less supportive of rape myths than those in the control group, suggesting that the use of prevention programs to combat attitudes supporting courtship violence may be useful interventions. Results from this study suggest that appropriate topics for inclusion in such prevention programs include gender role socialization and religious or spiritual influences on dating relationships and expectations. Other researchers suggest that learning nonviolent ways to deal with jealousy and possessiveness, conflict resolution, and sexual pressure (Stickel & Ellis, 1993) are also appropriate topics for psychoeducational programming for college students.


This study is not without limitations. One limitation of this study was the exclusive focus on attitudes that support the use of violence by men against women. We did not assess attitudes toward violence in same-sex relationships or violence committed by women against men primarily because research has shown that violence against women by men is the most frequently occurring type of violence (see Makepeace, 1986 for a review). However, research by Bowman and Morgan (1998) showed that same-sex intimate violence and violence committed by women toward men are serious issues among college students that warrant further study. Another limitation of this study is that we assessed attitudes toward violence among college men and women, rather than actual battering behaviors. Although attitudes toward violence have been found to be good predictors of actual battering behavior (Byers & Eno, 1991; Silverman & Williamson, 1997), we are not able to draw conclusions about the relationships between gender role attitudes and spirituality as they might relate to actual battering, only to attitudes toward battering.

Additionally, because this research was conducted with a convenience sample who differed in racial and gender composition from the university population, generalizability of the results is limited to the students included in the study. Research on relationships among attitudes supporting violence toward women, gender role attitudes, and religion and spirituality should be conducted with students of color in colleges, as well as with community samples who will be more diverse in age, geographic location, and educational attainment to gain a more comprehensive understanding of relationships among these constructs. The fact that the models accounted for only 35% and 10% of the variance in attitudes toward violence for men and women also strongly suggests that future research should investigate other variables that may explain additional variance in college students' attitudes. Finally, because the study was correlational in nature, no inferences about causation can be drawn. Longitudinal investigations of these issues should be conducted as they will allow investigators to learn about the causative factors in courtship violence and the attitudes that support it among college students.


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[Author Affiliation]

LaVerae A. Berkel is Assistant Professor of Counseling and Educational Psychology at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Beverly J. Vandiver is Associate Professor of Counseling Psychology at Penn State University. Angela D. Bahner is a doctoral student in Counseling and Educational Psychology at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. This study was funded by Penn State University's Alumni Society Graduate Student Research Initiation Grant and the Kozak Memorial Fellowship of the Phi Delta Kappa Fraternity. Work on this manuscript was also supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK - 3R01 DK064284-01 S1).

[Author Affiliation]

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to LaVerne A. Berkel, Counseling and Educational Psychology, University of Missouri-Kansas City, 4825 Troost Ave, Suite 124, Kansas City, MO 64110;

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