Prevention Science

, Volume 11, Issue 4, pp 371–383 | Cite as

A Brief Motivational Intervention for Physically Aggressive Dating Couples

  • Erica M. WoodinEmail author
  • K. Daniel O’Leary


Motivational interviewing is a brief non-confrontational intervention designed to enhance motivation to reduce harmful behavior (Miller and Rollnick 2002). The purpose of this study was to examine the effectiveness of motivational interviewing as a targeted prevention approach for partner aggression in emerging adulthood. Participants were 50 college dating couples between 18 and 25 years old who reported at least one act of male-to-female physical aggression in their current relationships. After completing a 2-hour assessment session, half of all couples were randomly assigned to a 2-hour individualized motivational feedback session targeting physical aggression and risk factors for aggression. The remaining couples received minimal, non-motivational feedback. Follow-up surveys were conducted 3, 6, and 9 months later. Hierarchical linear modeling analyses indicated that, compared to the control condition, the motivational feedback intervention led to reductions in physical aggression and harmful alcohol use and to less acceptance of female psychological aggression and male psychological aggression (among women only). Lagged analyses indicated that changes in physical aggression were predicted by reductions in psychological aggression and by lower acceptance of both male and female psychological aggression. Reductions in physical aggression predicted lower anxiety and greater relationship investment and male relationship commitment over time. These findings suggest that a brief motivational intervention is a useful prevention approach for high-risk dating couples, with benefits to both individual and relationship functioning.


Targeted prevention Partner aggression Motivational interviewing Emerging adulthood Hierarchical linear modeling 



Portions of this article were presented at the 2008 meeting of the Society for Prevention Research in San Francisco, CA, and at the 2008 meeting of the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies in Orlando, FL. This research was supported by NIMH grant F31MH071047 awarded to the first author and NIMH grant R01HMH057985 awarded to the second author. Special thanks go to Christopher Murphy for feedback on the design of this study and to Arthur Aron and Marvin Goldfried for comments on an earlier draft of this article.


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Copyright information

© Society for Prevention Research 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of VictoriaVictoriaCanada
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyStony Brook UniversityStony BrookUSA

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