What you say and what I hear-Investigating differences in the perception of the severity of psychological and physical violence in intimate partner relationships

Sverker Sikström, Mats Dahl, Hannah Lettmann, Anna Alexandersson, Elena Schwörer, Lotta Stille, Oscar Kjell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The correct communication of the severity of violence is essential in the context of legal trials, custody cases, support of victims, etc., for providing fair treatment. A narrator that communicates their experiences of interpersonal violence may rate the seriousness of the incident differently than a rater reading the narrator’s text, suggesting that there exist perceptual differences (PD) in severity ratings between the narrator and the rater. We propose that these perceptual differences may depend on whether the narrative is based on physical or psychological violence, and on gender differences. Physical violence may be evaluated as more serious by the receiver of the narrative than by the narrator (Calibration PD), whereas the seriousness of psychological violence may be difficult to convey, leading to a discrepancy in the seriousness ratings between the narrator and the rater (Accuracy PD). In addition, gender stereotypes may influence the seriousness rating (Gender PD), resulting in violence against women being perceived as more serious than the same violence against men. These perceptual differences were investigated in 3 phases using a new experimental procedure. In Phase 1, 113 narrators provided descriptions and seriousness ratings of self-experienced physical and psychological violence in relationships. In Phase 2, 340 independent raters rated the seriousness of 10 randomly selected narrations from Phase 1. In Phase 3, the genders in the narrations were changed to the opposite gender, and seriousness ratings were collected from 340 different raters. Our results confirmed the hypothesized perceptual differences. Violence to male victims was considerably more likely to be seen as severe when the raters were misled to believe the victim was a woman. We propose that these data provide practical guidelines for how to deal with misinformation in the communication of violence. The data also show that mean values and the confidence of such severity ratings need to be adjusted for several factors, such as whether it is self-experienced or communicated, the type of violence, and the gender of the victims and raters.
Original languageSwedish
Article numbere0255785
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2021 Aug 18

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Psychology

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