Effects on Arousal, Perceptions, and Attitudes

Part: 
Four
Chapter: 
3

Are there differences in effects from exposure to violent versus nonviolent sexually explicit material? An early study (Malamuth, Reisin and Spinner, 1979) had male and female subjects exposed to one of the above stimuli or a neutral one. The materials presented were pictures from Playboy or Penthouse magazines for the sexual exposures and from National Geographic for the neutral exposure. Sexually violent depictions included pictures of rape or sadomasochism whereas the sexually nonviolent material had no aggressive elements. After viewing the materials, subjects filled out a mood checklist. This was followed ten minutes later by an assessment of reactions to rape after the subjects had viewed a videotaped interview with an actual rape victim as well as an assessment several days later in an ostensibly different study. Both types of stimuli were found to reduce the extent to which subjects perceived that pornography may have detrimental effects but neither one affected reactions to rape. Correlational data, on the other hand, showed that sexual arousal to the sexually violent depictions were significantly related with a selfreported possibility of engaging in rape.

Another study (Malamuth, Haber and Feshbach, 1980) examined the effects of written descriptions of a sexual interaction based on a feature from Penthouse magazine and modified to created a violent and nonviolent version for male and female subjects. In this study, males who had been exposed to the sexually violent depiction (sadomasochism) perceived more favorably a rape depiction that was presented to subjects subsequently. Subjects were found to believe that a high percentage of men would rape if they knew they would not be punished and that many women would enjoy being victimized. Finally, of the fifty-three male subjects, seventeen percent said they personally would be likely to act as the rapist did under similar circumstances. Fifty-three percent of these males responded similarly when asked the same question if they could be assured they would not be caught.

In order to draw out the various dimensions in the portrayals of sexual violence which might explain the exhibition or inhibition of sexual responsiveness, Malamuth, Heim and Feshbach (1980) conducted two experiments on male and female students. The first experiment replicated earlier findings that normal subjects seem to be less aroused by sexual violence than by "nonviolent erotica." A second experiment manipulated reactions of the rape victim with one version showing her as experiencing an involuntary orgasm and no pain. The second version had her experiencing an orgasm with pain. Both male and female subjects were aroused to these depictions, with female subjects more aroused by the orgasm with no pain version while the males were most aroused by the orgasm with pain stimulus. The authors postulated in this case that under certain conditions, rape depictions can be arousing, particularly when the rape victim is shown experiencing an orgasm during the assault. According to the authors, subjects may have reinterpreted the events preceding the depiction of the victim's arousal so that the rape is now viewed as one that is less coercive and less guilt-inducing.

Three additional studies (Malamuth and Check, 1980a, 1980b, 1983) provide further evidence that victim reactions have a significant impact on sexual arousal and behavioral intentions. Results from one of these studies showed that both male and female subjects exhibited higher arousal levels when portrayals showed an aroused female, regardless of whether the context was a rape or a mutually consenting situation. The second study (Malamuth and Check, 1980a) similarly showed that male subjects had higher penile tumescence scores when viewing a victimaroused rape portrayal compared to a portrayal showing victim abhorrence. Significant correlations were also obtained between the reported possibility of engaging in similar behavior, sexual arousal to rape depictions and callous attitudes toward rape.

The effect of sexually violent depictions on attitudes has also been demonstrated with male and female subjects reporting greater acceptance of rape myths after exposure to such material (Malamuth and Check, 1980a; 1985; Malamuth, Haber and Feshbach, 1980).

In an attempt to approximate a "real world" situation, Malamuth and Check (1981) had male and female subjects view full-length features as part of campus cinema showings. The films-Swept Away and The Getaway-represented sexually violent films whereas control subjects viewed a nonviolent feature film. Dependent measures were obtained after a week in a questionnaire presented as a separate sexual attitudes survey. These measures included rape myth acceptance measures, measures on the acceptance of interpersonal violence as well as adversarial sexual beliefs, measures developed by Burt (1980). Results showed that exposure to sexual violence increased male subjects' acceptance of interpersonal violence against women. A similar trend, though statistically nonsignificant, was found for the acceptance of rape myths. There were nonsignificant tendencies for females in the opposite direction. In addition to the advantage of external validity from this field experiment, the problem of demand characteristics in some laboratory experimental situations is quite effectively dealt with in this study.