The relationship between college students' perceptions of parental characteristics, attributions for punishment, and denial of physical abuse

Samia Husni O'Neal

Abstract

Characteristics in a college-student population that affect the denial of being physically abused as a child were investigated. A total of 561 students were tested. Participants who endorsed four or more physical-abuse items on the Assessing Environments III Physical Punishment Scale (AEIII-PP) (Berger & Knutson, 1984), and perceived themselves to have been physically abused by their parents, were defined as the Abuse-Admit group $(n=26).$ Another 90 respondents scored "4" or more on the AEIII-PP scale, but did not acknowledge that their discipline history was "abusive" (Abuse-Denial group). The remaining 99 participants scored below "4" on the AEIII-PP scale and did not consider their discipline to have been physically abusive (Control group). Based on the psychoanalytic concept of "identification with the aggressor," it was expected that differences would be found among the three groups in their perceptions of their parents. The Abuse-Denial group did perceive their parents as more warm, less rejecting, less hostile, less neglectful, and less controlling than did the Abuse-Admit group. However, contrary to expectation, the Abuse-Denial group did not perceive their parents more positively on these dimensions than did the Control group. In addition, respondents in the Abuse-Denial group perceived their parents' motivations as having been more child-oriented, and less parent-oriented, than did the Abuse-Admit or the Control group. As hypothesized, respondents were more likely to describe themselves as "abused," as the number of physically abusive acts increased, and as the number of injuries that were received as a result of the physical discipline, increased. Finally, it was hypothesized that participants who were still receiving a large percentage of their financial support from their abusive parent(s), would be less likely to label their disciplinary histories as "abusive" than would those who were not receiving such support. Results were inconclusive, depending on the operational definition of financial support. A discriminant analysis using 18 predictors, investigated which factors contribute most to being in the Abuse-Admit group, versus the Abuse-Denial group, or the Control group. Severity of punishment accounted for 56% of the variance among groups, followed by perceived paternal and maternal Hostility/Aggression.