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Maria Testa, PhD

Maria Testa, PhD

Senior Research Scientist

Social Psychology

Research Associate Professor, Psychology

Contact Information

1021 Main Street
Buffalo, NY  14203-1016
Phone: (716) 887-2560
Google Scholar

Primary Research Areas

Sexual assault; partner violence; women’s sexual behavior; college drinking.

Proximal Effects of Marijuana in Understanding Intimate Partner Violence

Testa | Derrick | Leonard | Collins
The acute effects of marijuana use within couples will be examined as a way of understanding the potential role of marijuana in understanding partner aggression, both immediately after use, and as it develops over time

Although marijuana is commonly believed to suppress aggression, surveys consistently reveal positive associations between marijuana use and perpetration of intimate partner violence. However, it is not known whether on a proximal, event level marijuana use results in affective, cognitive, or behavioral effects consistent with partner aggression. The current study addresses this gap with a 30 day, ecological momentary assessment (EMA) study of marijuana use and couple functioning in a sample of young couples in which one or both partners use marijuana. Couples will be followed for one year, to determine whether marijuana use or its immediate consequence influence relationship functioning and stability over time.  Dr.Testa's co-investigators include Drs. Jaye Derrick, Kenneth Leonard of RIA, and Lorraine Collins of the School of Public Health and Health Professions. Funded by a grant of $1,862,243 from NIDA, 2013-2017.

Men’s Alcohol Use and Perpetration of Sexual Aggression

Testa | Leonard | Parks
The role of college men’s alcohol use in sexual aggression perpetration will be examined using 1) a prospective survey study over five semesters and 2) a 56-day daily report study considering whether drinking episodes increase the odds of subsequent sexual aggression.

In this project, Dr. Testa and colleagues will consider the impact of men’s alcohol consumption on their perpetration of sexual aggression. Two studies of college freshman males are being conducted following recruitment of 1,850 participants from two entering cohorts of male freshmen. In the first study, web-based, prospective survey methods will be used to examine whether the frequency of heavy episodic drinking predicts subsequent sexual aggression over the first five semesters of college. In a second study, a subsample of 324 men will make eight weeks of daily reports on drinking and sexual behavior using interactive voice response (IVR) technology. It is hypothesized that the relationship between alcohol use and sexual aggression is moderated by several individual differences variables, such as sex-related alcohol expectancies, hostile masculinity, and impersonal sexuality. These moderators will be considered both at the distal, prospective level and also at the proximal, daily level. Findings from the two studies are expected to provide significant new knowledge about the role of alcohol in men’s perpetration of sexual aggression and aid in the development of efficacious sexual aggression prevention programs. Funded with a grant of $2,078,526 from NIAAA, 2010-2015.

Alcohol and Couples Communication

Testa | Leonard | Quigley
Two studies considered the acute effects of alcohol use within couples on conflict and aggression: 1) an experimental alcohol administration study using a conflict resolution paradigm and 2) a 56-day daily diary study examining whether drinking episodes increase the odds of subsequent partner aggression.

In this study, Dr. Testa investigated whether acute alcohol consumption is a causal factor in episodes of relationship conflict and aggression among young married and cohabiting couples. First, an experimental study examined the effects of alcohol - administered independently to male and female partners - on communication behaviors and verbal aggression within a conflict resolution paradigm. Second, a daily diary study conducted over eight weeks was used to determine if the likelihood of relationship conflict or aggression occurring on a given day is increased when either the man, the woman, or both have consumed alcohol earlier that day. This study was unique in that it considered women's drinking, in addition to men's drinking, as a potential contributor to relationship conflict and aggression; the daily diary study was the first to examine daily alcohol-relationship conflict in a non-clinical sample, thereby addressing the importance of alcohol in naturally occurring relationship conflict; and lastly, both studies considered the role of potential moderating variables, including propensity toward aggression, behavioral self-control and alcohol expectancies. This research is expected to provide important insight into the causal mechanisms underlying the alcohol-intimate partner aggression relationship. Funded with a grant of $1,938,596 from NIAAA, 2007-2012.

Study of Health and Adult Relationship Experiences

Leonard | Testa | Quigley | Houston | Homish
Researchers examined the relationship between heavy drinking, impulsivity and aggression in married couples.

In this study, Dr. Leonard examined heavy drinking, cognitive functioning, and marital satisfaction and conflict in 300 couples over a three-year time period. Couples in which the husband, wife, both, or neither are frequent heavy drinkers were recruited. Researchers tested whether self-regulation skills, in conjunction with heavy drinking, smoking, and other health issues, influence marital satisfaction, marital stability, and marital conflict. Funded by an award of $2,635,812 from NIAAA, 2007-2012.

Video Vignettes: Measuring Risk Perception in Alcohol Related Sexual Assaults

Parks | Testa | Dearing | Hequembourg
Researchers developed short video clips of potential assault scenarios to help women better understand the nonverbal cues that could indicate the risk of sexual assault.

Prior research suggests that a woman’s ability to perceive or interpret cues about a potential sexual assault can be influenced by alcohol consumption and her history of prior assault. In the past, research designed to assess deficits in women’s ability to perceive risk cues for sexual assault have utilized written and audio vignettes. In this study, Dr. Kathleen A. Parks and colleagues are developing video vignettes, that will include nonverbal (e.g. facial expressions) risk cues that can not be presented in the more traditional written and audio vignettes. The hope is that these video vignettes, by including nonverbal, verbal, and environmental risk cues, will provide a more realistic depiction of a sexual assault scenario. The primary goal of developing more realistic scenarios with these imbedded risk cues is to be able to more accurately assess women’s ability to perceive risks for sexual assault during heterosexual drinking situations. Development and validation of this measure will occur through a rigorous, multi-method process involving five small studies. These include the development of the vignette scripts through focus groups, individual, and expert feedback, and validation of the different levels (ambiguous, low and high risk) of risk cues, through presentation to women during sober and moderate alcohol conditions. Future goals include the development of unique prevention programs using the video vignette measure as a training tool for improving women’s risk perception, thereby reducing sexual assault risk.

Principal Investigator
Kathleen Parks, PhD

Research Institute on Addictions

Maria Testa, PhD
Research Institute on Addictions

Ronda Dearing, PhD
Research Institute on Addictions

Amy Hequembourg, PhD
Research Institute on Addictions

Funding Agency
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)


Alcohol, HIV Risk Behaviors, and Sexual Victimization

This project involved longitudinal examination of the interrelationships among alcohol use, HIV sexual risk behaviors, and sexual victimization. The sample consisted of 1014 women, 18-30 years old, selected through random digit dialing of households in the Buffalo metropolitan area. Funded by a grant of $1,585,322 from NIAAA and the NIH Director's Office of Research on Women's Health (ORWH), 1999-2005.

Changes in Women’s HIV Risk Following Alcohol Treatment

Women in treatment for alcohol problems are at heightened risk for infection with HIV. Alcohol use may contribute directly or indirectly to risk in this population. The goals of this research project were to evaluate cross-sectionally, before and after treatment for alcohol abuse or dependence, the acute and global relationships of alcohol use and other factors to HIV risk-related behavior; to evaluate prospectively hypotheses regarding the extent to which baseline characteristics are predictive of change in HIV risk behavior during the year after entry into alcoholism treatment; and to evaluate prospectively, the extent to which women’s participation in treatment, exposure to HIV risk-reduction education and counseling, and changes in alcohol use mediate change. The protocol tested an Information-Motivation-Behavioral Skills model of HIV preventive behavior in an ethnically diverse sample of women entering either outpatient (n=300) or inpatient (n=150) treatment. Funded by a grant of $2,412,860 from NIAAA, 2005-2011.

Preventing Alcohol-related STD/HIV and Assault

Alcohol use is implicated in many incidents of indiscriminate sex and sexual assault. In this study, Dr. Maria Testa investigated whether reducing alcohol use among young women, through a parent-based intervention, might be an effective means of preventing STD/HIV infection and sexual assault. This randomized clinical trial examined the effectiveness of a parent-based intervention designed to reduce binge drinking and negative sexual outcomes among women entering college. Funded by an award of $1,962,500 from NIAAA, 2003-2009.