The Effects of Attraction to Sexual Aggression: History of Self-Reported Sexually Aggressive Behavior and Social Disinhibition on the Expression of Sexually Aggressive Behavior in the Laboratory

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Sexual aggression, defined as an attempt, successful or unsuccessful, to coerce another into sexual acts (Malamuth, Sockloskic, Koss & Tanaka, 1991) may be thought of as a continuum of behaviors, which, at one extreme, is forcible rape. The importance of examining this entire set of related behaviors, and their “cultural normality”, according to feminist and sociocultural theorists has, in recent years, been highlighted in the literature (Burt, 1980; Malamuth, 1986; Malamuth & Dean, 1991). It has also been considered vital to examine the role that situational disinhibitors (i.c., alcohol/drug intoxication, aggressive pornography, momentary anger, the observed behavior of others) play in the expression of sexual aggression. Behavioral theorists argue the strength of the acquired constraints (biological and learned) determine the strength of the situational disinhibitor required to release the tendency to sexually aggress (Marshall & Barbarcc, 1984).

Male undergraduate students were screened for participation in the present study by completing the Sexual Experiences Survey (SES) and the Attraction to Sexual Aggression Seale (ASA). The SES contains questions about participation in sexually aggressive behaviors, from verbal coercion to physical force. The ASA is a general measure of attraction to sexual aggression, regardless of the presence or absence of a history of sexually aggressive behavior. Eligible subjects were divided into three groups, those receiving high scores on both scales, those receiving iow scores on both scales, and those receiving high scores on the ASA and low scores on the SES.

A method developed by Hall and Hirschman (1994), who argue that presentation of a sexual stimulus by a male to an unknown female is analogous to a “sexually impositional” act, was used in the present study. Participants were shown four video clips, one a sexual assault scene, and were asked to choose one of the four clips to show a female participant in another room. For half of the participants, a male confederate, also in the room, made the suggestion that he planned to show the sexual assault clip to the female with whom he was paired (social disinhibitor condition).

Logistic regression analysis was used to predict video selection, with group, social disinhibitor, and the interaction between the two entered as predictors. Although the high SES/high ASA/social disinhibitor group did have the highest percentage of participants choosing the sexual assault clip, the interaction of group (ASA and SES scores) and the social disinhibitor was not a significant predictor of the tendency to display sexually impositional behavior in the laboratory. However, the social disinhibitor alone did significantly contribute to the prediction of selecting the sexual assault clip. These results highlight the importance of including the effects of situational disinhibitors in models of sexual aggression.

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