Ethical Considerations

Part: 
Four
Chapter: 
3

While some bias may be inherent in the volunteer subject in general (Rosenthal and Rosnow, 1969) and in the volunteers for experiments involving sexually explicit materials in particular, we are constrained even more by understandable concerns regarding the more "vulnerable" segments of the population. Sherif's (1980) observations about the lack of evaluation procedures for the effectiveness of debriefing subjects in one particular study (see Malamuth, Heim and Feshbach, 1980 for the study in question and Malamuth, Feshbach, and Heim, 1980 for response to Sherif, 1980) have prompted researchers to measure debriefing effects (Malamuth and Check, 1984; Linz, 1985; Krafka, 1985) and also to eliminate from participation those who might be more vulnerable to the effects of exposure to materials in these studies. For example, Linz (1985) measured potential subjects on a psychoticism scale and eliminated from participation those who had high scores on this measure. Krafka (1985) excluded from her female subject pool those who were sexually inexperienced because of earlier findings (Wishnoff, 1978) that when these types of females were exposed to explicit erotic films, their sexual anxiety diminished while their expectations about engaging in sexual intercourse increased. The trade-off between ethical concerns and representativeness is evident in Krafka's observation: "Although this restricts the population to which the present results generalize, the author was unwilling to show sexually inexperienced females degrading images of sexual behavior and, especially, pornographic rape depictions." (p. 17)

These efforts to protect subjects from potential harm are, of course, laudable and a healthy response to concerns that have been raised. In terms of the final pool of subjects who participate in pornography experiments, however, the self-selection process described above and the researcher-imposed selection process must circumscribe our evaluation of research results.