Area of Research

Interpersonal Conflict and Violence

Two sets of hands in a tug of war

Knowing the dynamics of conflict escalation has important implications of understanding individual-differences in interpersonal violence and can inform interventions designed to reduce retaliatory actions, and has been a core research interest for the Crime and Justice Policy Research program.

In the past year, Mark Berg and Ethan Rogers have worked on interpersonal conflict research through the support of two national grants funded by the National Institute of Justice. The first project, “Situational Factors and the Victim-Offender Overlap,” gathered original data on a sample of inmates and their contacts in the community on the situational dynamics of their interpersonal conflicts. The second project, the “Interpersonal Conflict and Resolution (iCOR) Study,” was designed through a partnership with NORC at the University of Chicago. This 31-month project collected data on the frequency and nature of conflicts from a nationally-representative sample of young adults and their intimate partners. Here are just a few research questions that have been addressed from these projects:

  1. Why are offenders and victims often the same people? Berg and Rogers, along with co-authors from Penn State, explored potential explanations for the strong association between offending and victimization – known as the offender-victim overlap. Their results revealed that the overlap may be in part due to the tendency to become involved in verbal conflicts. Verbal disputes create opportunities for violence and, as a result, individuals with greater tendencies for verbal conflict are more likely to become either offenders or victims. This study was published in the Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency.
  2. What accounts for the link between affective impairment and interpersonal violence? From the iCOR study, Berg, Rogers, and colleagues investigated the mechanisms through which adverse mental health states increase physical aggression. The findings suggested that social psychological mechanisms underlying conflicts are important interactional processes that may hold the clues to understanding this association.
  3. What motivates bystanders to take sides when conflicts erupt? Rogers, Berg, and colleagues at Penn State explored the processes that predict partisanship during disputes. Specifically, they examined how the gender of the people involved in disputes may motivate or deter bystander involvement and examined the potential mechanism underlying the gender effect.

A general theme across these studies is the mechanisms that are responsible for conflict escalation.