The current longitudinal study explored the extent to which implicit and explicit evaluations of sexual aggression predict subsequent sexually aggressive behavior. Participants (248 community men recruited online) completed measures of implicit and explicit evaluations and self-reported sexually aggressive behavior at two time points, approximately 4 months apart. Implicit and explicit evaluations of sexual aggression at Wave 1 had small significant and independent predictive relationships with sexually aggressive behavior at Wave 2, while controlling for sexually aggressive behavior at Wave 1. This is the first study to test whether implicit and explicit evaluations predict subsequent sexually aggressive behavior. Our findings are consistent with the possibility that both implicit and explicit evaluations may be relevant for understanding and preventing subsequent sexually aggressive behavior. If these findings can be replicated, evaluations of sexual aggression should be studied with more rigorous methodology (e.g., experimental design) and correctional/forensic populations, and possibly addressed in risk assessment and interventions.
Could you talk us through where the idea for the research came from?
Evaluations are an individual’s evaluative thoughts about something such as a person, object, or behavior (e.g., Albarracín, Zanna, Johnson, & Kumkale, 2005; Ajzen, 2001; Gawronski & Bodenhausen, 2007). Social psychology theory and research support the idea that evaluations, in part, predict behavior (e.g., Ajzen 1991, 2001; Glasman & Albarracín, 2006; Kraus, 1995). Empirical evidence suggests this is true whether the evaluations are immediate (implicit evaluations) or deliberative (explicit evaluations), and that both the automatic and deliberative evaluations are important (e.g., Greenwald & Farnham, 2000; Nosek & Smyth, 2007). From this research, my colleagues and I hypothesized that how someone evaluates sexual aggression would predict, in part whether or not they would engage in sexually aggressive behavior.
Prior to this study, we had conducted cross-sectional correlational and experimental research examining implicit and explicit evaluations of sexual aggression against adults. In some of our studies, we found more positive implicit evaluations of rape were associated with self-reported sexually aggressive behavior against adults and self-reported likelihood to rape (Nunes, Hermann, & Ratcliffe, 2013), and in all or our studies we found more positive explicit evaluations of rape were associated with self-reported sexually aggressive behavior against adults and self-reported likelihood to rape (Hermann, Nunes, & Maimone, 2016; Nunes, Hermann, White, Pettersen, & Bumby, 2016; Nunes et al., 2013). These studies provided preliminary evidence that evaluations are related to sexual offending against adults. Prior to this study, however, we hadn’t yet explored whether evaluations predict subsequent sexually aggressive behavior against adults. This was an important next step because if evaluations are a causal factor for this type of behavior, then we would expect that they would predict whether or not people engage in future sexually aggressive behavior.
We also wanted to explore this research question using a sample of men recruited from the community. Sexually aggressive behavior encompasses behaviors that differ in tactic (verbal coercion to physical aggression) and sexual acts (unwanted kissing or touching to penetrative acts). We know that many sexual assaults go undetected, and even if they are detected, may not result in official charges or convictions. This means that individuals with convictions for sexual aggression may not be fully representative of men who engage in sexually aggressive behavior against adults. In our past research we have used student samples, but these samples tend to be fairly homogeneous in their demographic characteristics, so they also may not be fully representative of men who engage in sexually aggressive behavior against adults. Community samples can offer diversity and complement samples of students and men with convictions for sexual aggression.
What kinds of challenges did you face throughout the process?
There were several logistical challenges we faced while conducting this research. The first was conducting this type of research online with a sample of community men. We needed to be able to get quality data and compensate participants for their efforts. We tried several different methods of collecting data online before settling on using Qualtrics and recruiting from a panel of participants.
What do you believe to be to be the main things that you have learnt about evaluations of Sexual Aggression in predicting sexually Aggressive Behavior in men in the community?
This research is preliminary, but suggests that explicit and implicit evaluations are relevant for understanding sexual aggression against adults. This is consistent with the social psychology literature noted above and suggests we should continue to explore the role evaluations may play in sexual aggression against adults.
This research was part of a series of studies I conducted for my dissertation (also see Hermann et al., 2016; Hermann, 2015). From these studies, we also learned that the pattern of relationships between evaluations and past sexually aggressive behavior and self-reported likelihood to rape was consistent for samples of students and community men. A common critique of research on sexual aggression conducted with student samples is that the results may not generalize to other samples of men (i.e., community or incarcerated samples). The results of the current study suggest that this may not be the case for research exploring the relationship between evaluations of sexual aggression and sexually aggressive behavior. Next we would like to try to replicate these findings with incarcerated samples of men with convictions for sexual aggression against adults to determine if research conducted with students and community men could also generalize to this population.
Now that you’ve published the article, what are some implications for practitioners?
We would suggest that more rigorous research is needed replicating and expanding this line of research before there are implications for practitioners. However, if future research finds evaluations predict sexually aggressive behavior against adults, that evaluations of sexual aggression can change, and that change is associated with changes in sexually aggressive behavior, then evaluations of sexual aggression would be an important target in risk assessment and treatment.
Chantal A. Hermann, Ph.D
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Hermann, C. A. & Nunes, K. L. (2016). Implicit and explicit evaluations of sexual aggression predict subsequent sexually aggressive behavior in a sample of community men. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1177/1079063216682952
Hermann, C. A., Nunes, K. L., & Maimone, S. (2016). Examining implicit and explicit evaluations of sexual aggression and sexually aggressive behavior in men recruited online. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1177/1079063216681560
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Nosek, B. A., & Smyth, F. L. (2007). A multitrait-multimethod validation of the Implicit Association Test: Implicit and explicit attitudes are related but distinct constructs. Experimental Psychology, 54, 14-29. doi 10.1027/1618-318.104.22.168
Nunes, K. L., Hermann, C. A., & Ratcliffe, K. (2013). Implicit and explicit attitudes towards rape are associated with sexual aggression. Journal of Interpersonal violence, 28, 2657-2675. doi: 10.1177/0886260513487995
Nunes, K. L., Hermann, C. A., White, K., Pettersen, C., & Bumby, K. (2016). Attitude may be everything, but is everything an attitude? Cognitive distortions may not be evaluations towards rape. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1177/1079063215625489