Aggressive Behavior

Part: 
Four
Chapter: 
3

Donnerstein (1980) had male subjects provoked or treated in a neutral manner by a male or female confederate, then had them view one of three films: a sexually explicit film, a film depicting a rape, and a neutral film. Results of this study show that when the target of angered subjects was a male, there was no difference in aggressive behavior (measured by shock intensity on an aggression machine) among males in the erotic and the aggressive-pornographic conditions. However, when the target was a female, aggressive behavior was higher only in the aggressive pornographic film condition, regardless of provocation.

To account for the impact of victim reactions in a rape portrayal, Donnerstein and Berkowitz (1981) had male subjects angered by a male or female confederate. Following instigation, they then watched one of four films: a neutral film, a non-aggressive pornographic film, an aggressive pornographic film with a positive outcome (where the woman is smiling and offering no resistance, becoming a willing participant in the end) and the last with a negative outcome, where the woman is shown exhibiting disgust and humiliation. Subjects who were angered by a male confederate were not significantly more aggressive towards the male instigator after viewing the pornographic or aggressive-pornographic film; those angered by a female, however, showed significantly higher levels of aggressive behavior in both aggressive-pornographic conditions, that is, those that portrayed a negative and those showing a positive outcome.

What about the effects of positive and negative outcomes on non-angered subjects? The same study (Donnerstein and Berkowitz, 1981) examined this issue using only female confederates. Results showed that for non-angered subjects, only the aggressive-pornographic film with a positive ending elicited higher aggression levels. Subjects exposed to this version also saw the woman portrayed as suffering less, enjoying more, and being more responsible for her situation. These findings suggest the importance of dis-inhibiting factors that might produce a readiness to respond (e.g., anger or frustration) and message cues (e.g., enjoyment of sexual coercion) as enhancing the likelihood of laboratory aggressive behavior. These are also short-term effects although with appropriate cues, there might be long-term effects as well. This remains speculative at this point (Malamuth and Ceniti, 1986).

A recent study demonstrates that such laboratory aggression is not always manifested when these "enhancing" factors are absent (Malamuth and Ceniti, 1986). Two groups of subjects were exposed to either sexually violent or sexually nonviolent depictions in movies, books and magazines over several weeks and compared to a third no-exposure control group. Several days later, in what was presented as a different study on ESP, measures of laboratory aggression using aversion noise were obtained in the typical aggression paradigm. No differences were found among the three exposure conditions. The authors speculated that a more immediate measure, incombination with stimuli which "prime" thoughts and feelings relevant to the exhibition of specific behaviors might be more conducive to an individual's performance of such behaviors.

An important study that clarifies the interaction of motivational, message and inhibitory factors as predictors of self-reported sexual aggression (Malamuth, In Press) has demonstrated that (a) such factors as hostility to women, dominance and acceptance of interpersonal violence, arousal to sexual violence, and sexual experience all correlate with sexually aggressive behaviors; (b) the occurrence of these aggressive behaviors is better "explained" or "predicted" by these factors in combination; (c) arousal to sexual aggression correlates with dominance and hostility to women and is also an important predictor of sexual aggression; and (d) these self-reports of sexually aggressive behavior are also correlated with laboratory measures of aggression.