This study expanded the traditional lens of social learning theory to investigate associations between a range of attitudes and behaviors of friends and a serious form of conflict—intimate partner violence (IPV).
Recent increases in the average age at first marriage have created an extended period during which young adults frequently continue to socialize with friends, even as romantic ties typically become increasingly serious. Nevertheless, little research has focused on some of the challenges associated with navigating these two social worlds simultaneously. In the current study, analyses relied on data from a structured survey and in-depth interviews from a longitudinal study of a large, diverse sample of male and female respondents followed across the adolescent to adult transition (n = 928). Consistent with prior work, friends’ IPV experience was significantly associated with respondents’ own IPV perpetration. Yet the social learning perspective developed by the authors highlighted the importance of considering a broader portfolio of friends’ characteristics. Controlling for friends’ IPV experience and family background, the odds of reporting IPV were associated with (a) involvement with friends perceived as more liberal in their attitudes toward dating and sexuality and (b) friends’ delinquent behavior. Further, longitudinal analyses showed an effect of variability in friends’ delinquency on within-individual changes in IPV across the full study period, suggesting that the association is not due solely to an underlying antisocial propensity. In-depth interviews with a subset of respondents (n = 102) corroborated these results, further illuminated underlying mechanisms, and highlight the dynamic aspects of these forms of social involvement during young adulthood. (publisher abstract modified)