Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Name

Clinical Psychology

Department or School/College

Department of Psychology

Committee Chair

David Schuldberg

Commitee Members

Christine Fiore, Jennifer Waltz, Daniel Denis, Daniel Doyle


analogue, couples, dating violence, game theory, intimate partner violence, Prisoner's Dilemma game


University of Montana


Dating violence that occurs in young college-aged couples is unique when compared to other types of violence. Aggression occurring in these couples is often bidirectional, highly impacted by situational stressors, and perpetrated by both males and females at relatively equal rates. Most importantly, dating aggression occurs within a developmental context when individuals are attempting to balance autonomy and intimacy within their relationships. However, little is known about conflict management within dating couples or if conflict management processes differ substantially for aggressive and non-aggressive dating couples. Although there has been extensive research in marital processes in conflict, only recently have researchers argued the need for conflict management of young, dating couples to be studied in a dynamic way (Capaldi, Kim, & Shortt, 2007). For this study, a computer administered version of the iterated Prisoner's Dilemma game was used as a tool for elicitation and observation of conflict behavior of young, dating couples. Specific in-game responding including negative escalation (termed defection spirals), cooperation, and repair were examined both quantitatively and qualitatively. In addition to the Prisoner's Dilemma game, participants completed questionnaires regarding personal history, current mood, and information on their dating relationship. A cross-sectional sample of college couples (N = 40 couples) was used and group membership (either aggressive or non-aggressive) was determined by endorsement of items on the Revised Conflict Tactic Scales (Straus, Hamby, Boney-McCoy, & Sugarman, 1996). Findings suggest aggressive and non-aggressive couples' perceptions and approach to the Prisoner's Dilemma game differed significantly. Primary hypotheses regarding differences between groups on the use of defection, cooperation, and repair over time (Group x Time interactions) were not supported by the data. However, aggressive and non-aggressive couples differed significantly on their use of defection and cooperation responses. For example, aggressive couples used more defection responses throughout the Prisoner's Dilemma game while non-aggressive couples used more cooperative responses. Descriptive analysis of game patterns by group indicated differing patterns for aggressive and non-aggressive couples. In addition, exploratory hypotheses examining the relationship between the Prisoner's Dilemma game and aggressiveness towards one's partner were significant, thus, adding to the literature in this area. Implications of these findings and future research are discussed.



© Copyright 2012 Kristen E. Waldemayer