Effects on Behavior

Part: 
Four
Chapter: 
3

Initial studies conducted for the 1970 Commission showed that sexually explicit materials had either no effect on sexual behavior or when effects were observed, there were generally slight increases in those sexual activities already in the individual's established repertoire (Amoroso, et. al., 1970; Byrne and Lamberth, 1970; Kutchinsky, 1970). These behavioral effects generally occurred within a short period after exposure. However, as one of the 1970 research investigators observed, it was also possible that,

the effects of erotica on behavior could have been obscured in the initial body of research because two major components of the influence process were missing from the early investigations: the extended time period necessary for change to occur and the specification of the depicted behavior as well as the relationship between the interactants (Byrne and Kelley, 1984).

While more recent studies examined the impact of nonviolent sexually explicit materials after repeated exposure, others have also examined behavioral effects after short-term exposure. It is in the latter area of behavioral effects from exposure to nonviolent sexually explicit stimuli where apparently conflicting results are found.

Baron and Bell (1977) exposed male students to stimuli that included semi-nude females, nudes, heterosexual intercourse and some explicit erotic passages. The mild erotic stimuli (semi-nudes and nudes) inhibited aggression levels whereas the "stronger" stimuli had no effects. A follow-up study (Baron, 1979), this time on female subjects, using the same stimulus materials found mild stimuli inhibiting aggressive behavior while the stronger stimuli increased aggression. Both these studies measured aggressive behavior via "shocks" delivered on an aggression machine.

In another study, photographs variously depicting "nonerotica," nude females, and couples in sexual activities were shown to male subjects (Zillmann and Sapolsky, 1977). Additionally, subjects were either provoked or unprovoked. For the latter group, no differences in aggression levels by type of stimulus were observed. No differences were observed in aggression levels for subjects who were provoked either, although respondents in this condition also exhibited lower annoyance levels. The authors explained these findings in terms of the aggression-reducing effect of relatively non-arousing but usually pleasant sexually explicit images which act to reduce annoyance or anger and consequently, aggressive behavior.

Along these lines, Sapolsky (1984) has suggested that content characteristics have an impact on affective states (that is, how pleasing or displeasing the stimulus is) as well as on arousal levels. The combination of these factors appear to produce differential responses.

Situational factors such as provocation and the removal of restraints against aggression appear to further mediate the effects of nonviolent pornography on viewers. Donnerstein, Donnerstein and Evans (1975) found that "mild erotica" (semi-nudes and nudes from Playboy) inhibited aggressive responses in contrast to "stronger erotica" (frontal heterosexual nudes in simulated intercourse and oral-genital contact) which enhanced aggression, particularly for previously provoked subjects. A subsequent study similarly showed that a pornographic film (black and white stag film depicting oral, anal intercourse and female homosexual intercourse) increased aggression levels among angered males to a significantly greater extent than a neutral film (Donnerstein and Barrett, 1978).

In comparing the effects of both aggressive and erotic films on aggressive behavior of male subjects, Donnerstein and Hallam (1978) found both types of stimuli to increase aggressive behavior against both a male and a female target. However, when these subjects were given a second opportunity to aggress, these responses increased in the pornographic film condition for the female but not for the male target. The second aggression opportunity, the authors suggest, acts to reduce restraints on aggression against women.

In sum, the experimental effects from exposure to nonviolent pornographic material appear to be mediated by a number of conditions: the strength of the stimulus to induce arousal, the affective nature of the stimulus, and situational factors such as the removal of restraints against aggression.