Role of Sexual Perception in Acquaintance-Initiated Sexual Aggression
Male-initiated sexual aggression toward female acquaintances is a major public-health problem on college campuses. Theoretical models of sexual coercion and aggression between acquaintances implicate misperception of women’s sexual interest as a proximal predictor of sexually aggressive behavior. The inclusion of misperception in theoretical models is supported by a burgeoning literature linking impoverished processing of women’s sexual interest to increased risk of sexually coercive or aggressive behavior. For example, we have shown that high-risk men, relative to low-risk men, show less attention to, sensitivity to, and memory for women’s affective cues, and are more influenced by provocativeness of dress and other physical characteristics of women when judging women’s dating-relevant affect in full-body photographs. Recently, we have begun the development and evaluation of training procedures designed to enhance the accuracy of men’s judgments of women’s sexual interest. Both trial-by-trial feedback and explicit instruction about non-verbal affective indicators of women’s sexual interest have increased men’s focus on women’s affective cues and decreased men’s focus on women’s non-affective cues when judging women’s sexual interest. Currently, we are completing an NIAAA-funded study to evaluate the extent to which an enhanced training protocol fosters robust transfer to a moderate dose of alcohol. We also are beginning an NIAAA-funded study that uses eye-tracking methods to evaluate the influence of a moderate dose of alcohol on men's overt visual attention to women's faces, women's bodies, and the social envrionment while judging women's momentary sexual interest.
Role of Affective Processing in Disordered Eating
Researchers increasingly have focused on the role of cognitive factors in the etiology, maintenance, and treatment of disordered eating. Investigations have focused to a far greater degree on deficits in the processing of information about the self, rather than others, although social-comparison processes play a critical role in the development and maintenance of eating disorders. Furthermore, this body of work has focused almost exclusively on the processing of disorder-specific information (i.e., shape, weight, eating, and food). Preoccupation with shape, weight, eating, and food may result in or from impoverished processing of other significant information, however, such as affective information. Many women who struggle with eating-disorder symptoms report a keen sense of social ineffectiveness and display marked deficits in interpersonal problem solving and affect regulation. Attention to, memory for, and learning about affective information is central to effective social interactions, suggesting that examination of affective processing may prove useful. Thus, we use tools drawn from cognitive science to investigate whether women reporting eating-disorder symptoms differentially process body-size and affective information presented in photos of other women.