Movie scenes depicting intimate partner violence (IPV) — the most common form of violence suffered by women — may shed light on attitudes of IPV tolerance and acceptability, suggests a new study.

Tolerance and acceptability "have been increasingly considered a central issue to understand individual and social factors that contributes to its prevalence in society," researchers cited. These attitudes have also been linked to public perceptions and responses, as well as "the kind of behavior that is considered violent in intimate relationships." For example, IPV may be deemed acceptable in instances where victims are thought to have provoked the violence in the first place.

To better understand the degrees of IPV acceptability, researchers recruited both undergraduate psychology students and male IPV perpetrators to complete the Partner Violence Acceptability Movie Task — a procedure based on responses to video clips depicting physical aggression toward women. Students were an average age of 24, and perpetrators, who had been court-mandated to a batterer intervention program after being sentenced less than 2, were an average age of 40.

Study participants watched 90-second film clips, including Color Purple, Fried Green Tomatoes, and Enough. Participants were asked, based solely on the scene, to stop the video if they though the man has become too violent, with the idea that a slower response time in judging a scene as abusive would indicate greater acceptability of IPV.

In addition to watching film clips, participants were measured for attitudes and beliefs about wife beating on two types of justification scales. On one scale, participants simply responded with a version of strongly agree to disagree, while the second scale included responses like, "There is no excuse for a man beating his wife;" higher scores indicate greater justification of IPV.

The students and perpetrators equally took longer to judge a scene as abusive scored higher on the justification scales. While male students scored higher than females, it was the perpetrators who scored the highest in acceptability of IPV.

"These preliminary results suggest that this new analog task can provide a psychometrically sound and valid procedure to assess acceptability of [IPV], providing a complimentary tool to self-reports evaluating attitudes and beliefs regarding partner violence," researchers said.

Although participants provided direct responses to film clips depicting partner aggression, they were still less likely to realize that the task is actually assessing the degree of their acceptability of these types of behaviors via their response time scores.

That said, the study was limited in many ways and researchers emphasize these are only preliminary results. Future research "would benefit from further validation studies of this procedure by using other self-report measures, testing its stability over time, using observational data or exploring data on attitude change or recidivism," researchers said. This study also only studied IPV against women — men can and do experience IPV, too.

Researchers do conclude, however, these "results likely reflect real differences in acceptability and justification of [IPV] as our clinical sample were men actually convicted for this offense."

Source: Gracia E, Rodriguez CM, Lila M. Preliminary evaluation of an analog procedure to assess acceptability of intimate partner violence against women: the Partner Violence Acceptability Movie Task . Frontiers in Psychology. 2015.