Effects of Massive Exposure

Part: 
Four
Chapter: 
3

In a study designed to evaluate the effects of massive exposure to sexual violence and to further explore the components of the desensitization process, a series of four studies-all part of a Ph.D. dissertation were conducted. (Linz, 1985). College males were exposed to a series of "slasher films," all R-rated, using a formula of sexual explicitness juxtaposed with much blood and gore. A typical example is a scene from Toolbox Murders showing a naked woman taking a tub bath, masturbating, then being stalked and killed with a power drill by a masked male. Comparisons were also made among R-rated nonviolent films and X-rated nonviolent films, both of which included sexually explicit scenes (the former were of the teenage sex films variety).[1124]

After viewing one film per day for five days, subjects were asked to participate in what was presented as a different study-a pretest of a law school documentary-then completed a questionnaire assessing the defendant's intentions, the victim's resistance, responsibility, sympathy, attractiveness, injury and worthlessness.

Among his findings:

  • Those who were massively exposed to depictions of violence against women came to have fewer negative emotional reactions to the films, to perceive them as significantly less violent, and to consider them significantly less degrading to women.
  • This desensitization appeared to spill over into a different context when asked to judge a female victim of a rape. Those massively exposed to sexual violence judged the victim of the assault to be significantly less injured and evaluated her as less worthy than did the control group.
  • There were no differences between subjects exposed to the teenage sex film or the X-rated film and the control group on either pretrial measures on objectification of women, rape myth acceptance or the acceptance of conservative sex roles or on the post-trial measures (defendant guilt, verdict, victim responsibility).
  • Two movies (about three hours viewing time, about twenty to twenty-five violent acts) were sufficient to obtain a desensitization effect similar to the effect obtained after exposure to five movies, suggesting that desensitization can occur fairly rapidly.
  • These findings were most pronounced for those subjects high on psychoticism and exposed to the highly sexually violent film. These individuals were significantly more likely to endorse the use of force in sexual relations and to evaluate the victim portrayed in the rape case as less credible, less worthy, and less attractive.

The effectiveness of debriefing procedures was assessed and the measures were found to be generally effective in reducing negative effects observed after film exposure.

Krafka (1985) used these same R-rated "slasher" films in a study similar to Linz's but using female subjects. Krafka also used these films as stimuli for a "violent" condition and contrasted this with exposure to sexual violence and to an X-rated set of films. The effects of massive exposure obtained for male subjects were absent for females.

It is clear that for males, exposure to sexually explicit materials juxtaposed with violence directed at a female target enhances callous attitudes in similar situations involving women as victims.

Notes

  1. The following films were used: R-rated nonviolent "teen sex" films-Porky's, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Private Lessons, Last American Virgin, and Hots. X-rated nonviolent films-Debbie Does Dallas, Health Spa, The Other Side of Julie, Indecent Exposure, and Fantasy. R-rated "slasher" films; Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Maniac, Toolbox Murders, Vice Squad, and I Spit on Your Grave.