Perceptions of physical and psychological aggression in close relationships: A review

Celestine Williams, Deborah South Richardson, Georgina S. Hammock, Adrian S. Janit

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


This review of the literature examines the effect of contextual variables (i.e., characteristics of the perpetrator and victims, observer characteristics) on perceptions of physical and psychological aggression in close relationships. Observers view physical aggression as more serious, harmful, abusive, and more deserving of punishment than psychological aggression, male aggression as more serious than female aggression, and aggression in committed, exclusive relationships as more serious than aggression in casual ones. Victims of psychological aggression, however, perceive it as more harmful than physical aggression and consider the effects to be longer-lasting. The disparity between observer and victim perceptions of physical and psychological aggression extends to mental health professionals, who tend to judge the severity of aggressive behaviors based on frequency and duration of the actions instead of perpetrator intent. This difference of opinion may influence the reporting of and intervention in physically or psychologically aggressive situations, and how these types of aggression are treated by legal professionals, especially if those legal professionals are informed about aggressive romantic relationships by third-party observers whose opinions of the situation differ from those of the victims.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)489-494
Number of pages6
JournalAggression and Violent Behavior
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2012


  • Aggressor characteristics
  • Intimate partner violence
  • Perceptions of aggression
  • Psychological aggression

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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