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Our Research

Our laboratory has long focused on studying the etiology, treatment, and prevention of intimate partner violence (IPV; physical and psychological aggression in intimate relations). This work has been expanded through partnerships with faculty in psychology, emergency medicine, and neurology at Stony Brook University, as well as the Suffolk County Department of Probation. Through the work of our team of graduate students, we are currently investigating IPV in a number of on-going and new research projects which include biological factors (e.g., head injury, diurnal cortisol, and testosterone), psychological factors (e.g., emotional dysregulation and various forms of marital discord), and behavioral factors (e.g., communication and the consumption of pornography) that affect individuals, relationships, and family functioning. In addition to our work on IPV, there are diverse issues being examined by our research team in the areas of the consequences of divorce on college students, the treatment of sexual trauma in college students, and the effects of traumatic brain injury (TBI) on individual and relationship functioning. And we are collaborating on a multisite study headed by Ernest Jouriles at Southern Methodist University to reduce sexual harassment and assault of college students through a video based program, TakeCARE.

Etiology: Dr. Kristin Bernard and Dr. O’Leary are evaluating the role of cortisol and testosterone on general aggression and IPV in both undergraduates and in perpetrators of domestic assault. Dr. O’Leary has also spent a number of years studying the association between alcohol use and partner aggression. In particular, he has worked to address the fact that the overall association of alcohol use and engaging in physical aggression against a partner is significant but quite small. However, problematic alcohol use is significantly related to partner aggression in our research as well as in the research of others. With a faculty colleague, Dr. Nicholas Eaton, Craig Rodriguez-Seijas, Ingrid Solano, and Sarah Bannon, we have recently found that personality factors like trait aggression or impulsivity and impulse control problems account for the bulk of the variance in the intersect between problematic alcohol use and IPV in a national sample. We are currently preparing these findings for publication.

Treatment/Intervention: Our team is consulting with our Suffolk County program for batterers to develop an intervention that uses Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT; based on Zarling, Bannon, & Berta, 2017) as a broad foundation. Currently, we are working with the same individuals in the Suffolk County probation department to evaluate whether having perpetrators arrested for partner violence wear a GPS tracking bracelet leads to fewer violations of orders of protection and ultimately reduces fear in victims (Caitlin Kehoe, Sarah Bannon, and Dr. O’Leary). Additionally, members of our lab continue to be involved in the evaluation of a novel ACT-based program for partner violence perpetrators, and we are currently collaborating with researchers in Texas and Iowa to assess the interplay between individual risk factors and treatment in connection to repeat abuse.

Stemming from our team’s work with forensic evaluations through the family court system, Sarah Bannon, Nicole Barlé, Michael Menella and Dr. O’Leary recently studied college students and found that having been “caught in the middle” between divorcing parents operates over and above direct exposure to marital conflict and aggression between the parents. This research is now being extended to a more diverse college student sample with a focus on junior college students and the development of measures to examine the varied ways in which divorcing or just conflictual parents place their children in the middle of their conflict.

Student-Driven Research:In addition to projects that closely align with Dr. O’Leary’s own research interests, our research team has a number of projects that have stemmed from the unique research interests of Dr. O’Leary’s graduate students. For example, following one graduate student’s interest in psychotherapy research for trauma-exposed individuals (Nicole Barlé), we are evaluating a group treatment protocol for female college students who have been sexually assaulted while in college. Following another graduate student’s interest in understanding the connection between head injury and aggression (Sarah Bannon), we are collaborating with colleagues in the departments of emergency medicine and neurology both at Stony Brook University and at Mount Sinai Medical Center to assess the impact of TBI on individual psychological functioning and intimate relationship variables. Additionally, Dr. O’Leary, Ingrid Solano and faculty colleague, Dr. Nicholas Eaton are examining the prevalence of pornography consumption in a large online sample. Our interest in pornography stems from the frequent mention of pornography consumption in custody cases. We are evaluating how such use varies with age, gender, and relationship status. Ingrid Solano has helped move pornography research forward in that she has examined pornography consumption differences among three different media modalities: prose, pictures, and videos, and has shown that women are much more likely to use pornography in the form of prose than men. Further, she has shown that the self-reported function of pornography use is almost identical for men and women, namely sexual excitement and masturbation. Currently we are exploring the impact of the negotiation of pornography consumption in relationships as well as outcome correlates (e.g., IPV) and personality factors correlated with use and type of pornography used. Finally, Sarah Bannon and Dr. O’Leary have been validating the utility of a communication assessment protocol (referential communication task) for intimate partners that Ms. Bannon applied largely from basic research in communication. The measure of interest is predictive of relationship satisfaction both cross-sectionally and longitudinally, and may allow for assessments of couple communication that incorporate basic neuroscience and psycholinguistics frameworks.


Current Studies

GPS Monitoring of Domestic Assault Perpetrators

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Despite an extensive literature evaluating treatments for intimate partner violence (IPV) perpetrators, other aspects of the judicial response to partner abuse have received little attention. In particular, electronic monitoring programs (EM; e.g., monitoring of an individual’s location, drug or alcohol intake via electronic technologies) are increasingly prominent conditions of probation for IPV offenders. These methods theoretically allow probation officers (POs) to spend more time on compliance (e.g., home and scheduled office visits). However, victim impact reports are mixed, with some officials regarding EM strategies as a mechanism of increasing safety, and others arguing that EM provides a false sense of security. The cost of EM technologies may financially burden offenders and victims, and offenders also report mandation to GPS monitoring reduces trust in their POs. No studies to date have empirically evaluated EM for IPV offenders. This study aims to examine the impact of EM in male IPV probationers (N=156) in connection and other co-occurring conditions.


Relationships and TBI  (RaT Study)

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Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is a highly prevalent public health concern in the U.S. and produces a number of challenges for individuals and their loved ones (Langlois, Rutland-Brown, & Thomas, 2006). TBI demonstrates considerable heterogeneity in terms of causes, pathophysiology, and symptom trajectories post-injury, all of which present barriers for developing prognostic models and optimizing treatments(Maas et al., 2013). With both mild and more severe forms of injury, neuropsychological deficits are common, as are physical and emotional disturbances that can require assistance from family members and intimate partners (Zaloshnja, Miller, Langlois, & Selassie, 2008). These challenges produce distress for loved ones of survivors, who report loss of familiarity, alienation, and emotional distance post-injury. Indeed, difficulties maintaining intimate relationships are among the most frequently reported sequela of TBI, (Yeates, 2013) with 50% of couples reporting clinically significant relationship distress post-injury (Kreutzer, Sima, Marwitz, & Lukow Ii, 2016). Despite the link between TBI and relationship problems, methodological issues have limited our understanding of the course and extent of couples’ adjustment (quality, stability, support) post-injury. By recruiting from medical rehabilitation settings over 1 year post-TBI, studies have failed to capture the heterogeneity of TBI in connection to relationship outcomes, and have predominantly characterized more severe brain injuries (Kreutzer et al., 2016; Yeates, 2013).

Though mild TBI constitutes the majority (75%) of Emergency Department (ED) cases(Eames, 2001), mild TBI produces subtle initial symptoms, and affected individuals are not typically treated in rehabilitation settings, leaving the full range of relationship outcomes unknown at present. In addition to a lack of representative data, previous studies have failed to adopt longitudinal designs, account for pre-injury relationship functioning, and incorporate data from both TBI patients and their intimate partners. As a consequence, there is a critical lack of information available at present on how couples are impacted by mild TBI (i.e. ‘concussion’). Such an examination is needed to develop ED screening measures sensitive to relationship decline, and to inform the provision of resources for at-risk couples.

Characterizing relationships post-TBI is important, as intimate relationships are known to impact individual health outcomes(Robles, Slatcher, Trombello, & McGinn, 2014). Following medical events (e.g., stroke, cancer diagnosis, cardiac arrest), relationship declines predict all-cause mortality and other negative health outcomes (Burgess & Wood, 1990; Rao & Lyketsos, 2000; Sbarra, Law, & Portley, 2011). For TBI patients, general measures of closeness (e.g., social support, marital status) are as influential for long-term outcomes (e.g., physical, emotional, employment) as TBI characteristics themselves(Bowen, Palmer, & Yeates, 2010). Though partners share lifestyles and have roles as caregivers, no studies have examined how changes in relationship functioning impact TBI health outcomes. Partner relationship quality demonstrates a consistent positive impact on patient health over time(Tay, Tan, Diener, & Gonzalez, 2013). Support behaviors are also reliably linked to health outcomes but vary in usefulness depending on the medical context. High levels of support from partners predict lower pain symptoms in breast cancer survivors(Kudel, Edwards, Raja, Haythornthwaite, & Heinberg, 2008), but exacerbate the severity of pain experiences for chronic pain patients (Cano & Williams, 2010).  As TBI produces neuropsychological challenges in addition to emotional/physical distress, knowledge of how partner behaviors enhance or limit recovery is critical.

This study serves to characterize romantic relationship functioning during recovery from mild Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). We are enrolling a sample of patients admitted to the Stony Brook Emergency Department (during admission and post discharge) and following up on their outcome through online surveys and telephone sessions across the first 3-months following the injury. We assess pre-injury, injury related, and post-injury adjustment variables in connection to both relationship functioning and individual health outcomes. By characterizing relationships during this period,we will characterize how couples are impacted by mild TBI and examine relationship adjustment in connection to individual health and relationship outcomes


Publications (Updated 2017)


  • O'Leary, K. D., Heyman, R. E., & Jongsma Jr, A. E. (2015). The Couples Psychotherapy Treatment Planner, with DSM-5 Updates, 2nd Ed., John Wiley & Sons: New York.

Recent Publications in Edited Journals:

  • Solano, I., Eaton, N. R. & O’Leary, K. D. (Under revision for Journal of Sex Research, September 2017). Pornography consumption, modality, and function in a large internet sample.
  • Bannon, S., & O’Leary, K. D. (Revise & Resubmit, June 2018). Conversational efficiency predicts relationship satisfaction in couples.  Manuscript submitted for publication.
  • Cucci, G., O’Leary, K. D., Olivari, M. G., & Confaloneri, E. (Under revision for Journal of Interpersonal Violence).  Gender and age differences of dating aggression among Northern Italians.
  • Bannon, S., Barlé, N., Menella, M., & O’Leary, K. D. (2017). Parental conflict, and college student functioning: Impact of child involvement in conflict. Journal of Divorce and Remarriage.
  • O’Leary, K. D. & Solano, I. (2018). Relationship discord, intimate partner physical aggression, and externalizing problems of children (pp 291-306). In Lochman, J. E. & Matthys, W. (Eds.), The Wiley Handbook of Disruptive & Impulse Disorders. New York: Wiley.  
  • O’Leary, K. D., Salis, K. D., & Bannon, S.M. (2018). Violence in couples and families. In Lebow, J., Chambers, A., & Breunlin, D. (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Couple and Family Therapy. Springer: New York.
  • Jouriles, E. N., Sargent, K. S., Salis, K. L., Caiozzo, C., Rosenfeld, D., Cascardi, M., Grych, J. H., O’Leary, K. D. & McDonald, R. (August, 2017). TakeCARE, a video to promote bystander behavior on college campuses: Replication and extension. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 1-14.
  • Graña, J. L., Montesino, M. L. C., Redondo, N., & O’Leary, K. D. (2016). Can you be hit by your partner and be intensely in love? Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 31 (12), 2156-2174.
  • Salis, K. L. & O’Leary, K. D., (2016). Treatment of partner aggression in intimate relationships (pp. 96-112). In Sullivan, K. T. & Lawrence, E. (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Relationship Science and Couple Interventions. New York:Oxford.  
  • Salwen, J. K., Daniel O'Leary, K., & Hymowitz, G. F. (2016). The roles of body mass index and jealousy in women's perpetration of sexual coercion. Partner Abuse7(2), 111-124.
  • Llorens, N. G., Salis, K. L., O’Leary, D. K., & Hayward, J. (2016). A focus on the positive: Reasons for not engaging in physical aggression against a dating partner. Journal of Family Violence31(1), 75-83.
  • Babcock, J., Armenti, N., Cannon, C., Lauve-Moon, K., Buttell, F., Ferreira, R., Cantos, A., Hamel, J., Kelly, D., Jordan, C., Lehman, P., Leisring, P., Murphy, C., O’Leary, K. D., Bannon, S., Salis, K. L.., & Solano, I. Domestic violence perpetrator programs: A proposal for evidence based standards in the United States. (2016). Partner Abuse, 7, #4, 355-460.
  • Bannon, S. M., Salis, K. L., & O'Leary, K. D. (2015). Structural brain abnormalities in aggression and violent behavior. Aggression and Violent Behavior25, 323-331.
  • Cantos, A. L., Goldstein, D. A., Brenner, L., O'Leary, K. D., & Verborg, R. (2015). Correlates and program completion of family only and generally violent perpetrators of intimate partner violence. Psicología Conductual23(3), 549.
  • Salwen, J. K., Solano, I. A., & O'Leary, K. D. (2015). Sexual coercion and psychological aggression victimization: Unique constructs and predictors of depression. Partner Abuse6(4), 367-382.
  • Salwen, J. K., Hymowitz, G. F., Bannon, S. M., & O’Leary, K. D. (2015). Corrigendum to “Weight-related abuse: Perceived emotional impact and the effect on disordered eating.” Child Abuse Neglect, 45, 163–171.
  • Lorber, M. F., Erlanger, A. C. E., Heyman, R. E., & O’Leary, K. D. (2015). The honeymoon effect: does it exist and can it be predicted? Prevention Science16(4), 550-559.
  • O’Leary, K. D. (2015). Time for dyadic treatments for low-level partner aggression. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry76(6), 824-825.
  • Montesino, M. L. C., Gómez, J. L. G., & O'Leary, K. D. (2015). Intensity of love in a community sample of Spanish couples in the region of Madrid. The Spanish Journal of Psychology, (18), 1-9.

Current Grants:

  • TakeCARE: A Video Bystander Program to Prevent Sexual Violence on College Campuses, NIMH, April 1, 2016 to March 31, 2018 (Co-Investigator: PI E Jouriles).
  • Biomarkers of Batterers, Carlos Albizu University, San Juan Puerto Rico, September 1, 2016 to August 31, 2017, Co-Investigator with K. L Salis & S Bannon ; PI A. Cantos