We all know that domestic abuse exists, but do we all have the same idea of what domestic abuse is? In witnessing the same behaviours would we all make the same judgements? Probably not. But why does this matter? Whilst many people might like to think they would easily recognise abuse, the accuracy of this belief might depend on what behaviours they consider to be abusive, or perhaps more importantly, what behaviours they don’t consider to be abusive. When abusive behaviours first occur in a romantic relationship, they can be easy to miss. The earliest abusive behaviours are often subtle, controlling, and without physical violence.
Whilst some people might recognise non-physical abuse, others might only recognise physical abuse, whilst others still might require evidence of injury before identifying behaviour as abusive rather than just problematic. But why might people’s concepts of what abuse looks like vary? One possible explanation is that people have pre-existing beliefs about gender and relationships which colour the way in which they view interactions in relationships.
For example, if a person believes that jealousy is evidence of passion and love, and therefore a good sign in romantic relationships, controlling behaviours attributable to jealousy may be seen as consistent with a healthy relationship rather than indicative of abuse. Alternatively, if they endorse benevolently sexist ideals that men are dominant protectors and women are submissive, chaste, caregivers, they may view an unequal power dynamic with a male abuser and female victim as expected, rather than evidence of the man controlling and dis-empowering his female partner, and therefore be less supportive of victims.
In my research I wanted to explore the content of people’s schemas of abuse and the beliefs that might influence this content.
In our first study, we had participants describe a relationship with abuse. The vast majority of participants’ descriptions of abusive relationships included mentions of control and power imbalances. Although nearly half of participants mentioned physical abuse indicating that recognition of physical abuse was strongly linked to people’s ideas of what abuse looks like, the recognition of control and power imbalance seemed promising. Perhaps our participants did have an awareness that abuses comprises controlling non-physical behaviours that are vital to achieving power imbalances in abusive relationships.
But one point giving rise to concern was that most of our participants failed to describe specific abusive behaviours. Instead they used descriptive labels, that the relationship would be controlling, physically abusive, emotionally abusive, etc.. Consequently, we could not determine if participants had only an abstract awareness of the importance of control, or a more detailed understanding which would allow for the recognition of specific controlling non-physical behaviours.
In our second study, we wanted to test participants recognition of specific behaviours as abusive as it is behaviours that are witnessed, experienced and perpetrated. We also wanted to determine if identification of abuse was linked to participants’ agreement with traditional gender roles in which men are dominant protectors and women are submissive caregivers, their belief in traditional romantic values (e.g., that there is one true love and love conquers all), and the extent to which they view jealousy as good for romantic relationships.
Participants were presented with a list including non-abusive behaviours (A shows they care about B), non-physically abusive behaviours (A checks B’s texts and emails), and physically abusive behaviours (A pushes or shoves B). They were asked to rate whether these behaviours were definitely, maybe, or never abusive. Although participants’ endorsement of benevolently sexist traditional gender roles, traditional romantic beliefs, and jealousy were associated with viewing all behaviours as less abusive, the belief that jealousy is good was associated with reduced identification of non-physical forms of abuse in particular.
Collectively these findings suggest that challenging the belief that jealousy is good is crucial for early identification of abusive behaviours.
- By Kiara Minto
Minto, K., Masser, B. M., & Louis, W. R. (2020). Identifying Nonphysical Intimate Partner Violence in Relationships: The Role of Beliefs and Schemas. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 088626052093850. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260520938505
From reduced air pollution to cleaner water, the COVID-19 pandemic has provided a vision of hope: evidence that we are capable of rapidly changing our behaviours to build a cleaner, healthier environment. However, what is less clear is whether this vision can be translated into reality. To help investigate this question, the Network of Social Scientists convened an online workshop in late May. The group of around 30 academics and environmental professionals pooled their expertise to explore the effects of the pandemic on the environment. Through investigating the following three questions they identified a range of impacts and barriers to change, as well as techniques for sustaining positive outcomes as the lock downs ease.
What have been the environmental impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic?
A diverse range of positive and negative environmental effects were highlighted by NESS experts. Many enforced changes from the lock downs led to environmental benefits: more cycling, gardening and engagement in green spaces, a reduction in food waste and greater support for local businesses and food chains were all suggested. In the workplace, a remarkable transition to an online world challenged the dominance of in-person meetings and international travel, both reducing environmental impacts and increasing accessibility and connectivity.
Attitudes may have also changed. Trust in experts was enhanced by the centrality of health experts on daily news reports and other media. Some workshop participants believed more positive attitudes towards our ability to create change had emerged, which could flow onto increased mobilization against climate change. Our ability to collectively shoulder immense economic risks to safeguard our health proved that politics can produce results in times of crisis. Some argued that this has shown that the ‘behaviour change barrier’ can be broken.
However, as many social scientists noted, behavioral changes are likely to slide as we slowly return to past habits. As well as this concern, NESS experts highlighted the range of negative environmental impacts which were resulting from the pandemic. The drowning out of attention on bushfires and climate change, the continued practice of ‘ghost flights’, a surge in internet and energy use, and the quadrupling of medical waste indicated a high level of doubt about whether any longer term positive environmental benefits will be sustained.
What barriers may prevent our ability to sustain positive environmental effects?
The UN Secretary General António Guterres hoped that 2020 would be a pivotal year for addressing climate change. Yet despite the horror of the 2019/20 Australian bushfires, media and political attention swiftly re-focused on the pandemic. As the economic and social costs of the pandemic built, NESS experts noted how political barriers resisting change may once again reassert themselves. The renewed focus on development and jobs might serve as a reason or excuse to cut environmental funding, projects and regulations aiming to protect the environment as has happened in previous economic downturns. The prioritization of a gas led recovery indicates limited political support for a fast transition to clean energy. While calls for an Australian ‘green new deal’ are growing, countering the desire to strip back environmental regulation will require a sustained and powerful collective response.
As work and holidays returns to pre-pandemic habits, emissions and other negative environmental impacts resulting from commuting and travel may rapidly rise. Turning changed attitudes and behaviours into habits will likely be difficult. A 50% increase in household waste managed by Australian Councils were foreseen by NESS experts. Pivoting back to eco-friendly behaviours such as public transportation use will be likely be discouraged. The surge in use of public green spaces in wealthier nations could be offset by increased deforestation and biodiversity loss in the Global South as newly unemployed migrant workers return to villages to survive. The economic shock of a recession may reduce public support for implementing environmentally beneficial policies. There are myriad localized and personal barriers which may make sustaining environmental positive behaviours much harder to maintain.
What insights from social science can help leverage COVID-19 to achieve positive outcomes for the environment?
NESS experts suggested three techniques which could be used to overcome the barriers which will drive a return to ‘business as usual’ as our communities emerge from lock down.
First, there is evidence from past pandemics that highlighting the positive personal benefits of changed behaviours can spur lasting change. Past pandemics using this frame drove the development of more green spaces, enabling healthier urban environments alongside increased access to nature. Organisations seeking to advocate for permanent post-pandemic changes could seek to frame their messages referencing the personal benefits of clean air and quieter cities, the benefits to health and personal safety, and the financial and time savings to people and firms from reduced travel costs.
Second, NESS experts highlighted the value of capitalising on the momentum we have already built in achieving short term changes. Research on dynamic or change norms highlights that the mere knowledge that a growing number of others have been doing a certain behaviour will increase intentions to adopt that behaviour.
Third, NESS experts recommended the use of trusted messengers to communicate about environmental change. Celebrate local businesses cementing in more sustainable post-COVID-19 practices. Capitalize on the increased profile of health experts by amplifying messages from groups such as Doctors for the Environment. Work from within organisations to accelerate change and demonstrate the value of a cleaner and healthier world. COVID-19 has powerfully demonstrated the differences in the power of trusted leaders and voices to mobilise, compared to contested or outsider voices.
Already the environmental effects of the pandemic have begun to be documented through a range of academic papers and opinion pieces. Whether for good or ill, the pandemic has shown us that we do have the power to change the impact we have on the world. The challenge is now to build a new reality from this brief moment of hope.
The summary report from the workshop is available here.
- By Dr. Robyn Gulliver
This article was originally posted by NESSAUSTRALIA (Network of Environmental Social Scientists).
All researchers in the Social Change Lab contribute to the "Do Good" blog. Click the author's name at the bottom of any post to learn more about their research or get in touch.
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