Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology



First Advisor

David Faust


Two prevailing, contrasting theories, learned helplessness and health psychogenesis, have been proposed to describe and explain the battered woman's experience and response to domestic violence. This research examined the status (scientific adequacy) of each theory's database to determine where the preponderance of evidence lies.

The investigator articulated nine factors that differentiate the two theories. Trained independent raters then rated study outcomes as falling into one of three categories: pro-learned helplessness, pro-health psychogenesis, or supportive of both theories. Studies of two research samples (shelter and community) were identified and assessed (rated) along four methodological dimensions (sample, instrumentation, statistical analysis, and hypothesis testing) . Each was assigned a total design quality score, and -the studies were then divided into three groups according to the overall level of design quality (high, medium, low). A table was then created that exhibited the overall picture of design quality by outcome (the theory supported by the study).

The research relevant to each theory appeared to be roughly equal in overall design quality. The majority of the research evidence appeared to support the pro-health psychogenesis theory. However, the difference between the percentage of evidence that supported psychogenesis versus learned helplessness was modest (16 studies, or 55%; 10 studies, or 34%). It may be argued that a theory that appears to be validated (correct) approximately 50% of the time (health psychogenesis) or approximately one third of the time (learned helplessness) does not reflect a strong or well-articulated theory. One would expect that a theory's predictions would, at least, be greater than chance.

These results suggest that rather than trying to determine which of the two theories is better, a more fruitful approach might be to develop an integrated theory that draws on the strongest elements of each. The dissertation concludes with a number of suggestions regarding how research and clinical practice might begin this process.