Research Highlights

  • Risk processing and college women’s risk for sexual victimization

    June 1, 2020 - 9:15pm

    Abstract

    Objective: Sexual assault is a widespread problem among college women. Interventions effective in reducing college men’s sexually aggressive behavior are scarce making research with at-risk women a necessary adjunct to work with men. This study examined whether individual differences in decoding risk information and making decisions about risky situations prospectively predicted sexual victimization 6 months later, as well as whether these cognitive processes mediated the association between baseline and follow-up victimization. Method: Participants were 481 freshman undergraduate women aged between 18 and 24 years, who were heterosexual or bisexual, and unmarried. At baseline, participants completed tasks measuring decoding and decision-making about victimization risk in written vignettes describing risky social situations. They also completed the Sexual Experiences Survey to measure the severity of victimization experiences at baseline and follow-up. Results: Less effective decision-making at baseline prospectively predicted more severe follow-up victimization. Judging more situations as high risk at baseline, as well as relying more on risk cues when judging risk at baseline, indirectly predicted less severe follow-up victimization via more effective decision-making. Less effective decision-making at baseline partially accounted for the strong prospective link between victimization severity at baseline and follow-up. Conclusion: Risk-related decoding and decision-making processes either directly or indirectly prospectively predicted the severity of future sexual victimization of college women. Cognitive-training methods designed to enhance college women’s detection of and response to victimization risk should be explored as a potential preventative strategy for the reduction of women’s risk for sexual violence.

    To read the full paper:

    Yeater, E.A., Treat, T.A., Viken, R.J., & Bryan, A.D. (2020).  Risk processing and college women’s risk for sexual victimization.  Psychology of Violence, 10, 575–583. (pdf)

  • Tracking men’s perceptions of women’s sexual interest

    March 15, 2020 - 3:45pm

    Abstract

    Judging a woman’s current sexual interest in a specific man is a socially and emotionally complex decision. These judgments can be considered a form of perceptual decision-making in which men integrate both affective (emotional) and nonaffective cues. College men at risk of sexual aggression rely less on women’s affective cues and more on nonaffective cues, suggesting that cognitive processes may matter for real-world problems. However, in the real world, people may not have the luxury of waiting for processes to complete before they act. Recent work has used dynamic competition models of decision-making to examine this problem. These models assume that affective judgments (such as interested vs. rejecting) are partially activated by multiple cues and compete over time. This work, in which mouse tracking is used to index partial decision states, demonstrates that on-line measures predict rape-supportive attitudes over and above off-line (judgment) measures. This offers a new way to understand the cognitive core of an important societal problem.

    To read the full paper:

    Treat, T.A., McMurray, B., Smith*, J.R., & Viken, R.J. (2020).  Tracking men’s perceptions of women’s sexual interest.  Current Directions in Psychological Science, 29, 71-79. (pdf)

  • Sexual-perception processes in acquaintance-targeted sexual aggression

    November 27, 2018 - 7:15pm

    Abstract

    This study analyzes data from seven published studies to examine whether three performance-based indices of men's misperception of women's sexual interest (MSI), derived from a self-report questionnaire, are associated with sexual-aggression history, rape-supportive attitudes, sociosexuality, problem drinking, and self-reported MSI. Almost 2000 undergraduate men judged the justifiability of a man's increasingly unwanted advances toward a woman on the Heterosocial Perception Survey-Revised. Participants self-reported any sexual-aggression history, and some completed questionnaires assessing rape-supportive attitudes, sociosexuality, problem drinking, and self-reported MSI. A three-parameter logistic function was fitted to participants’ justifiability ratings within a non-linear mixed-effects framework, which provided precise participant-specific estimates of three sexual-perception processes (baseline justifiability, bias, and sensitivity). Sexual-aggression history and rape-supportive attitudes predicted: (a) reduced sensitivity to women's affect; (b) more liberal biases, such that the woman's affect had to be more negative before justifiability ratings dropped substantially; and (c) greater baseline justifiability of continued advances after a positive response. Sexual-aggression history and attitudes correlated more strongly with sensitivity than baseline justifiability; remaining variables showed the opposite pattern. This work underscores the role of sexual-perception processes in sexual aggression and illustrates the derivation of performance-based estimates of sexualperception processes from questionnaire responses.

    To read the full paper:

    Treat, T.A., & Viken, R.J. (2018).  Sexual-perception processes in acquaintance-targeted sexual aggression.  Aggressive Behavior, 44, 316-326. (pdf)

  • Dynamic competition account of men’s perceptions of women’s sexual interest

    August 1, 2018 - 2:00pm

    Abstract

    This work applies a dynamic competition framework of decision making to the domain of sexual perception, which is linked theoretically and empirically to college men’s risk for exhibiting sexual coercion and aggression toward female acquaintances. Within a mouse-tracking paradigm, 152 undergraduate men viewed full-body photographs of women who varied in affect (sexual interest or rejection), clothing style (provocative or conservative), and attractiveness, and decided whether each woman currently felt sexually interested or rejecting. Participants’ mouse movements were recorded to capture competition dynamics during online processing (throughout the decisional process), and as an index of the final categorical decision (endpoint of the decisional process). Participants completed a measure of Rape-Supportive Attitudes (RSA), a well-established correlate of male-initiated sexual aggression toward female acquaintances. Mixed-effects analyses revealed greater curvature toward the incorrect response on conceptually incongruent trials (e.g., rejecting and dressed provocatively) than on congruent trials (e.g., rejecting and dressed conservatively). This suggests that the two decision alternatives are simultaneously active and compete continuously over time, consistent with a dynamic competition account. Congruence effects also emerged at the decisional endpoint; accuracy was typically lower when stimulus features were incongruent, rather than congruent. RSA potentiated online congruence effects (intermediate states of behavior) but not offline congruence effects (endpoint states of behavior). In a hierarchical regression analysis, online processing indices accounted for unique variability in RSA above and beyond offline accuracy rates. The process-based account of men’s sexual-interest judgments ultimately may point to novel targets for prevention strategies designed to reduce acquaintance-initiated sexual aggression on college campuses.

    To read the full paper:

    Smith*, J.R., Treat, T.A., Farmer, T.A., & McMurray, B. (2018).  Dynamic competition account of men’s perceptions of women’s sexual interest. Cognition, 174, 43-54. (pdf)