Testing the instrumental and reactive motivations of romantic relational aggression



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Kansas State University


The literature suggests that aggressive behaviors occur in response to provocation (i.e., reactive aggression) or to achieve a goal (i.e., instrumental aggression). Relational aggression –when an individual harms another’s interpersonal relationships – has been studied from the reactive and instrumental framework in peer-directed contexts, usually with children. However, relational aggression in romantic relationships is yet to be studied from this framework. This dissertation includes a series of studies investigating whether two specific relationally aggressive behaviors found in romantic relationships (i.e., social sabotage and love withdrawal) are 1) motivated by instrumental and reactive aggression, 2) associated with differential characteristics, and 3) predictive of negative outcomes. The Romantic Relational Aggression Motivation (RRAM) scale, which included social sabotage and love withdrawal items with both instrumental and reactive motivations, was created to explore the above research questions. During Study 1a, an exploratory factor analysis using a sample of 170 emerging adults tested the factor structure of the RRAM. This resulted in love withdrawal, but not social sabotage, factoring into instrumental and reactive subscales. Using the same sample at a later wave, Study 1b refined the RRAM from Study 1a; the findings confirmed the results of Study 1a. In Study 2, using a sample of 118 emerging adults, the factor structure found in Study 1b was corroborated using a confirmatory factor analysis. Study 2 found that social sabotage was more closely related to instrumental than reactive love withdrawal. Reactive and instrumental love withdrawal were clearly differentiated based on their associations with constructs that were emotionally driven (e.g. neuroticism and hostile attribution bias) but not by their associations with constructs that dealt with power (e.g. self-relationship power and trait dominance). None of the romantic relational aggression scales were predictive of the negative outcomes in the study, possibly due to the small sample size (85 emerging adults) in the longitudinal portion of Study 2. As instrumental and reactive love withdrawal were associated with different constructs and combining the two together may cause substantial differences to be lost, the RRAM may be a useful tool for researchers of romantic relational aggression.



romantic relational aggression, instrumental aggression, reactive aggression, love withdrawal, social sabotage, motivations

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Doctor of Philosophy


School of Family Studies and Human Services

Major Professor

Amber Vennum