Women 'more aggressive to partners'
Women are more likely than men to be controlling and aggressive towards their partners, a study has found.
The idea that they are the gentler sex is a myth - at least as far as partners are concerned, according to psychologists.
Far from the popular notion of women tending to be victims of "intimate partner violence" (IPV), they were more verbally and physically aggressive to their other halves than men, the findings showed.
Just as many women as men could also be classed as abusive "intimate terrorists" who coupled controlling behaviour with serious levels of threats, intimidation and physical violence.
Researchers questioned 1,104 young men and women about physical aggression and controlling behaviour involving partners and friends.
Study leader Dr Elizabeth Bates, from the University of Cumbria, said: "Previous studies have sought to explain male violence towards women as arising from patriarchal values, which motivate men to seek to control women's behaviour, using violence if necessary.
"This study found that women demonstrated a desire to control their partners and were more likely to use physical aggression than men. This suggests that IPV may not be motivated by patriarchal values and needs to be studied within the context of other forms of aggression, which has potential implications for interventions."
In the 1990s a US sociologist from the University of Michigan, Professor Michael P Johnson, coined the term "intimate terrorism" to define an extreme form of controlling relationship behaviour involving threats, intimidation and violence.
Prof Johnson found that intimate terrorists were almost always men, a view that has generally become widely accepted.
But the new research, based on anonymous questionnaire answers, found that women were equally likely to display such behaviour.
Dr Bates, who presented her findings at the British Psychological Society's Division of Forensic Psychology annual meeting in Glasgow, said: "It wasn't just pushing and shoving. Some people were circling the boxes for things like beating up, kicking, and threatening to use a weapon.
"In terms of high levels of control and aggression, there was no difference between men and women."
She added: "The stereotypical popular view is still one of dominant control by men. That does occur but research over the last 10 to 15 years has highlighted the fact that women are controlling and aggressive in relationships too.
"A contributing factor could be that in the past women have talked about it more. The feminist movement made violence towards women something we talk about. Now there is more support for men and more of them are feeling comfortable coming forward."
Dr Bates pointed out that Prof Johnson's original research looked at men in prisons and women in refuges, rather than typical members of the public.
Her study deliberately focused on young students in their late teens and early 20s because statistically they were most likely to be victims of aggression.
The analysis showed that, while women tended to be more physically aggressive towards their partners, men were more likely to be physically aggressive to same-sex "others" including friends.
Controlling behaviour was significantly linked to physical aggression in both men and women.