The Effects of Violent Sexually Explicit Materials

Part: 
Four
Chapter: 
3

The findings from studies investigating effects of exposure to sexually violent materials appear to be fairly unequivocal: measures in the areas of attitudes and behaviors have consistently demonstrated changes in attitudes and laboratory-measured behaviors, with the nature of the effect mediated by such additional factors as message cues (e.g., whether the female victim is shown to be abhorring or enjoying the rape) and individual personality differences.

Studies on the effects of exposure to sexually violent material have been conducted primarily in the laboratories of Neal Malamuth (at Manitoba, Canada and University of California, Los Angeles) and Edward Donnerstein at the University of Wisconsin. With the respective colleagues, they have utilized three typical approaches.

The first approach generally has subjects exposed to stimuli (usually varying consent versus force), with physiological penile tumescence and self-report measures of arousal taken during exposure, followed by questionnaires incorporating dependent variable measures (e.g., likelihood of rape, acceptance of rape myths and interpersonal violence, acceptance of sexual violence against women (see, for example, Malamuth and Check, 1980, 1981, 1983).

A second approach typified by Linz (1985) has subjects exposed to one of several types of stimuli over time (neutral, aggressive, or sexually violent of the "slasher" variety) under the guise of a film evaluation study. Prior to this exposure, measures are generally obtained on psychoticism, in part to eliminate participation by subject who might be especially vulnerable to this type of exposure. The second phase has subjects participate in an ostensibly different study in the law school where they are asked to take part in a mock rape trial. Measures are then obtained at this point which assess punitiveness, rape empathy and similar attitudes.

The third approach has been to expose subjects in the laboratory to sexually violent versus comparison material and assess negative effects by utilizing surrogate measures of aggressive behavior (e.g., shock intensities on an aggression machine. See, for example, Donnerstein, 1980; Donnerstein and Berkowitz, 1981).

All three approaches have different virtues which contribute to our ability to understand various dimensions to the problem. For example, the physiological penile measures of arousal provide an independent and objective means of corroborating self-reports. Surrogate measures of aggression avoid the ethical problems of "inducing" actual anti-social behaviors and at the same time can be validated by actual self-reports of aggression in sexual behavior. Finally, the "massive" exposures afford a first step at our efforts to examine the longer-term effects of exposure to sexually-explicit materials.