A New Approach to Sexual Assault Prevention

Debra W. Soh in Scientific American:

ImagesIn recent years, there has been growing discussion around the topic of sexual assault on college campuses. Prominent statistics estimate that between one in four and one in five women will experience sexual assault or rape during her time as a college student. Researchers in the field have emphasized that caution must be taken when interpreting these figures; however, the fact that sexual aggression persists at all highlights its importance as an issue of societal concern. This greater public awareness has led to an increased emphasis on improving preventative measures against sexual assault. With this aim, a recent study in Psychology of Violence has uncovered a novel way of approaching the problem and potentially lowering rates of sexual offending. Previous research has shown that a man’s tendency to misread female sexual interest—for example, mistaking friendliness for interest in sex—can lead to the commission of sexual aggression toward her. As a result, researchers at the University of Iowa were interested in testing whether this inaccuracy in perception could be improved through the use of a feedback-based computer task.

Study participants were 183 heterosexual or bisexual undergraduate male students at the university. Roughly 92% had been in at least one serious or casual relationship in the last three years. They completed two computerized tasks. For the first, they viewed and rated 232 full-body, clothed photos of undergraduate women on how sexually interested they believed the women felt, on a scale running from -10 (extremely sexually rejecting) to +10 (extremely sexually interested). Half of the men received feedback about each woman’s actual level of sexual interest, based on ratings made by the study authors and female students. All participants then viewed 110 photos and decided whether each woman in the photo would respond positively or negatively to a man’s sexual advance.

More here.