Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 44, Issue 1, pp 99–109 | Cite as

Experimental Effects of Exposure to Pornography: The Moderating Effect of Personality and Mediating Effect of Sexual Arousal

  • Gert Martin HaldEmail author
  • Neil N. Malamuth
Original Paper


Using a randomly selected community sample of 200 Danish young adult men and women in a randomized experimental design, the study investigated the effects of a personality trait (agreeableness), past pornography consumption, and experimental exposure to non-violent pornography on attitudes supporting violence against women (ASV). We found that lower levels of agreeableness and higher levels of past pornography consumption significantly predicted ASV. In addition, experimental exposure to pornography increased ASV but only among men low in agreeableness. This relationship was found to be significantly mediated by sexual arousal with sexual arousal referring to the subjective assessment of feeling sexually excited, ready for sexual activities, and/or bodily sensations associated with being sexually aroused. In underscoring the importance of individual differences, the results supported the hierarchical confluence model of sexual aggression and the media literature on affective engagement and priming effects.


Pornography Personality Sexual arousal Violence against women Rape myth 



The study was supported, in part, by grants from The Health Insurance Foundation and The Augustinus Foundation.


  1. Aiken, L. S., & West, S. G. (1991). Multiple regression: Testing and interpreting interactions. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  2. Allen, M., D’Alessio, D., & Brezgel, K. (1995a). A metaanalysis summarizing the effects of pornography II: Aggression after exposure. Human Communication Research, 22, 258–283. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2958.1995.tb00368.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Allen, M., Emmers, T., Gebhardt, L., & Giery, M. A. (1995b). Exposure to pornography and acceptance of rape myths. Journal of Communication, 45, 5–26. doi: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.1995.tb00711.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Andersen, P. K., & Skovgaard, L. T. (2010). Regression with linear predictors. Copenhagen: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Anderson, C. A., & Bushman, B. J. (2002). Human aggression. Annual Review of Psychology, 53, 27–51. doi: 10.1146/annurev.psych.53.100901.135231.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Ariely, D., & Loewenstein, G. (2006). The heat of the moment: The effect of sexual arousal on sexual decision making. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 19, 87–98. doi: 10.1002/bdm.501.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Ashton, M. C., Lee, K., Goldberg, L. R., & de Vries, R. E. (2009). Higher-order factors of personality: Do they exist? Personality and Social Psychology Review, 13, 79–91. doi: 10.1177/1088868309338467.PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Bandura, A. (1973). Aggression: A social learning theory analysis. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  9. Baron, R. A., & Bell, P. A. (1977). Sexual arousal and aggression by males: Effects of type of erotic stimuli and prior provocation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 35, 79–87.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Berkowitz, L. (1984). Some effects of thoughts on antisocial and prosocial influences of media events: A cognitive-neoassociation analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 95, 410–427. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.95.3.410.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Bridges, A. J., Wosnitzer, R., Scharrer, E., Sun, C., & Liberman, R. (2010). Aggression and sexual behavior in best-selling pornography videos: A content analysis update. Violence against Women, 16, 1065–1085. doi: 10.1177/1077801210382866.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Burt, M. R. (1980). Cultural myths and supports for rape. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 38, 217–230. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.38.2.217.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Bushman, B. J., & Anderson, C. A. (2002). Violent video games and hostile expectations: A test of the General Aggression Model. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28, 1679–1686. doi: 10.1177/014616702237649.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Clore, G. L., & Schnall, S. (2005). The influence of affect on attitude. In D. Albarracín, B. T. Johnson, & M. P. Zanna (Eds.), Handbook of attitudes (pp. 437–489). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  15. Costa, P. T., & McCrae, R. R. (1992). Four ways five factors are basic. Personality and Individual Differences, 13, 653–665. doi: 10.1016/0191-8869(92)90236-I.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Costa, P. T., Terracciano, A., & McCrae, R. R. (2001). Gender differences in personality traits across cultures: Robust and surprising findings. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81, 322–331. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.81.2.322.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Coyne, S. M., Linder, J. R., Nelson, D. A., & Gentile, D. A. (2012). “Frenemies, fraitors, and mean-em-aitors”: Priming effects of viewing physical and relational aggression in the media on women. Aggressive Behavior, 38, 141–149. doi: 10.1002/ab.21410.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Davis, K. C., Norris, J., George, W. H., Martell, J., & Heiman, J. R. (2006). Men’s likelihood of sexual aggression: The influence of alcohol, sexual arousal, and violent pornography. Aggressive Behavior, 32, 581–589. doi: 10.1002/ab.20157.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Diamond, M. (2009). Pornography, public acceptance and sex related crime: A review. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 32, 304–314. doi: 10.1016/j.ijlp.2009.06.004.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Diamond, M., Jozifkova, E., & Weiss, P. (2011). Pornography and sex crimes in the Czech Republic. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40, 1037–1050. doi: 10.1007/s10508-010-9696-y.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Donnerstein, E., & Hallam, J. (1978). Facilitating effects of erotica on aggression against women. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36, 1270–1277. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.36.11.1270.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Edwards, J. R., & Lambert, L. S. (2007). Methods for integrating moderation and mediation: A general analytical framework using moderated path analysis. Psychological Methods, 12, 1–22. doi: 10.1037/1082-989X.12.1.1.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Edwards, K. M., Turchik, J. A., Dardis, C. M., Reynolds, N., & Gidycz, C. (2011). Rape myths: History, individual and institutional-level presence, and implications for change. Sex Roles, 65, 761–773. doi: 10.1007/s11199-011-9943-2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Felson, R. B. (1996). Mass media effects on violent behavior. Annual Review of Sociology, 22, 103–128. doi: 10.1146/annurev.soc.22.1.103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Funder, D. C. (2007). Beyond just-so stories towards a psychology of situations: Evolutionary accounts of individual differences require independent assessment of personality and situational variables. European Journal of Personality, 21, 599–601.Google Scholar
  26. Goldberg, L. R. (1999). A broad-bandwidth, public-domain, personality inventory measuring the lower-level facets of several five-factor models. In I. Mervielde, I. Deary, F. De Fruyt, & F. Ostendorf (Eds.), Personality psychology in Europe (Vol. 7, pp. 7–28). Tilburg, The Netherlands: Tilburg University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Goldberg, L. R., Johnson, J. A., Eber, H. W., Hogan, R., Ashton, M. C., Cloninger, C. R., et al. (2006). The International Personality Item Pool and the future of public-domain personality measures. Journal of Research in Personality, 40, 84–96. doi: 10.1016/j.jrp.2005.08.007.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Hald, G. M. (2006). Gender differences in pornography consumption among young heterosexual Danish adults. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 35, 577–585. doi: 10.1007/s10508-006-9064-0.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Hald, G. M., Kuyper, L., Adam, P. C. G., & De Wit, J. B. F. (2013). Does viewing explain doing? Assessing the association between sexually explicit materials use and sexual behaviors in a large sample of Dutch adolescents and young adults. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 10, 2986–2995. doi: 10.1111/jsm.12157.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Hald, G. M., Lange, T., & Malamuth, N. M. (2013). Pornography and sexist attitudes among heterosexuals. Journal of Communication, 6, 638–660. doi: 10.1111/jcom.12037.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Hald, G. M., Malamuth, N. M., & Yuen, C. (2010). Pornography and attitudes supporting violence against women: Revisiting the relationship in nonexperimental studies. Aggressive Behavior, 36, 14–20. doi: 10.1002/ab.20328.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Hald, G. M., Seaman, C., & Linz, D. (2014). Sexuality and pornography. In D. L. Tolman, L. M. Diamond (Editors-in-Chief), J. A. Bauermeister, W. H. George, J. G. Pfaus, & L. M. Ward (Associate Editors), APA handbook of sexuality and psychology: Vol. 2. Contextual approaches (pp. 3–35). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  33. Hansen, C. H., & Krygowski, W. (1994). Arousal-augmented priming effects. Communication Research, 21, 24–47. doi: 10.1177/009365094021001003.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Huesmann, L. R. (1998). The role of social information processing and cognitive schemas in the acquistion and maintenance of habitual aggressive behavior. In R. G. Geen & E. Donnerstein (Eds.), Human aggression: Theories, research, and implications for policy (pp. 73–109). New York: Academic Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Imhoff, R., Bergmann, X., Banse, R., & Schmidt, A. F. (2013). Exploring the automatic undercurrents of sexual narcissism: Individual differences in the sex-aggression link. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 42, 1033–1041. doi: 10.1007/s10508-012-0065-x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Jaffe, Y., Malamuth, N., Feingold, J., & Feshbach, S. (1974). Sexual arousal and behavioral aggression. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 30, 759–764. doi: 10.1037/h0037526.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. Jonason, P. K., Li, N. P., Webster, G. D., & Schmitt, D. P. (2009). The dark triad: Facilitating a short-term mating strategy in men. European Journal of Personality, 23, 5–18. doi: 10.1002/per.698.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Kingston, D. A., & Malamuth, N. M. (2011). Problems with aggregate data and the importance of individual differences in the study of pornography and sexual aggression: Comment on Diamond, Jozifkova, and Weiss (2010). Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40, 1045–1048. doi: 10.1007/s10508-011-9743-3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Kingston, D. A., Malamuth, N. M., Fedoroff, P., & Marshall, W. L. (2009). The importance of individual differences in pornography use: Theoretical perspectives and implications for treating sexual offenders. Journal of Sex Research, 46, 216–232. doi: 10.1080/00224490902747701.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Krahé, B., & Möller, I. (2010). Longitudinal effects of media violence on aggression and empathy among German adolescents. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 31, 401–409. doi: 10.1016/j.appdev.2010.07.003.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Kutchinsky, B. (1991). Pornography and rape: Theory and practice? Evidence from crime data in four countries where pornography is easily available. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 14, 47–64.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. Lalumiere, M. L., Quinsey, V. L., Harris, G. T., Rice, M., & Trautrimas, C. (2003). Are rapists differentially aroused by coercive sex in phallometric assessments? Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 989, 211–224. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2003.tb07307.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  43. Lewis, D. M. G., Easton, J. A., Goetz, C. D., & Buss, D. M. (2012). Exploitative male mating strategies: Personality, mating orientation, and relationship status. Personality and Individual Differences, 52, 139–143. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2011.09.017.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. MacKinnon, D. P., & Fairchild, A. J. (2009). Current directions in mediation analysis. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 18, 16–20. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8721.2009.01598.x.PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Malamuth, N. M. (2003). Criminal and noncriminal sexual aggressors. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 989, 33–58. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2003.tb07292.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  46. Malamuth, N. M., Addison, T., & Koss, M. (2000). Pornography and sexual aggression: Are there reliable effects and can we understand them? Annual Review of Sex Research, 11, 26–91.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  47. Malamuth, N. M., Feshbach, S., & Jaffe, Y. (1977). Sexual arousal and aggression: Recent experiments and theoretical issues. Journal of Social Issues, 33, 110–133. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-4560.1977.tb02008.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Malamuth, N. M., Hald, G. M., & Koss, M. P. (2012). Pornography, individual differences in risk and men’s acceptance of violence against women in a representative sample. Sex Roles, 66, 427–439. doi: 10.1007/s11199-011-0082-6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Malamuth, N. M., Heim, M., & Feshbach, S. (1980). Sexual responsiveness of college students to rape depictions: Inhibitory and disinhibitory effects. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 38, 399–408. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.38.3.399.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  50. Mosher, D. L., Barton-Henry, M., & Green, S. E. (1988). Subjective sexual arousal and involvement: Development of multiple indicators. Journal of Sex Research, 25, 412–425. doi: 10.1080/00224498809551471.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Ogle, R. L., Noel, N. E., & Maisto, S. A. (2009). Assessing acceptance of violence toward women: A factor analysis of Burt’s Acceptance of Interpersonal Violence Scale. Violence against Women, 15, 799–809. doi: 10.1177/1077801209334444.PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  52. Peter, J., & Valkenburg, P. M. (2009). Adolescents’ exposure to sexually explicit internet material and notions of women as sex objects: Assessing causality and underlying processes. Journal of Communication, 59, 407–433. doi: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2009.01422.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Roskos-Ewoldson, D. R., Roskos-Ewoldsen, B., & Dillman Carpentier, F. (2009). Media priming: An updated synthesis. In J. Bryant & M. B. Oliver (Eds.), Media effects: Advances in theory and research (3rd ed., pp. 74–93). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  54. Sanchez, D. T., Fetterolf, J. C., & Rudman, L. A. (2012). Eroticizing inequality in the United States: The consequences and determinants of traditional gender role adherence in intimate relationships. Journal of Sex Research, 49, 168–183. doi: 10.1080/00224499.2011.653699.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  55. Senn, C. Y., & Radtke, H. L. (1990). Women’s evaluations of and affective reactions to mainstream violent pornography, nonviolent erotica, and erotica. Violence and Victims, 5, 143–155.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  56. Seto, M. C., Maric, A., & Barbaree, H. E. (2001). The role of pornography in the etiology of sexual aggression. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 6, 35–53. doi: 10.1016/S1359-1789.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Short, M. B., Black, L., Smith, A. H., Wetterneck, C. T., & Wells, D. E. (2012). A review of Internet pornography use research: Methodology and content from the past 10 years. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 15, 13–23. doi: 10.1089/cyber.2010.0477.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Shrout, P. E., & Bolger, N. (2002). Mediation in experimental and non-experimental studies: New procedures and recommendations. Psychological Methods, 7, 422–445. doi: 10.1037/1082-989X.7.4.422.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  59. Streiner, D. L., & Norman, G. R. (1989). Health measurement scales: A practical guide to their development and use. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  60. Stulhofer, A., Busko, V., & Schmidt, G. (2012). Adolescent exposure to pornography and relationship intimacy in young adulthood. Psychology & Sexuality, 3, 95–107. doi: 10.1080/19419899.2010.537367.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Vega, V., & Malamuth, N. M. (2007). Predicting sexual aggression: The role of pornography in the context of general and specific risk factors. Aggressive Behavior, 33, 104–117. doi: 10.1002/ab.20172.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  62. Voller, E. K., Long, P. J., & Aosved, A. C. (2009). Attraction to sexual violence towards women, sexual abuse of children, and non-sexual criminal behavior: Testing the specialist vs. generalist models in male college students. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 38, 235–243. doi: 10.1007/s10508-008-9343-z.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  63. Ward, L. M. (2002). Does television exposure affect emerging adults’ attitudes and assumptions about sexual relationships? Correlational and experimental confirmation. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 31, 1–15. doi: 10.1023/A:1014068031532.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Williams, K. M., Cooper, B. S., Howell, T. M., Yuille, J. C., & Paulhus, D. L. (2009). Inferring sexually deviant behavior from corresponding fantasies: The role of personality and pornography consumption. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 36, 198–222. doi: 10.1177/0093854808327277.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Yodanis, C. L. (2004). Gender inequality, violence against women, and fear: A cross- national test of the feminist theory of violence against women. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 19, 655–675. doi: 10.1177/0886260504263868.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  66. Zillmann, D. (1971). Excitation transfer in communication-mediated aggressive behavior. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 7, 419–434. doi: 10.1016/0022-1031(71)90075-8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Zillmann, D. (1983). Transfer of excitation in emotional behavior. In J. T. Cacioppo & R. E. Petty (Eds.), Social psychophysiology: A sourcebook (pp. 215–240). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  68. Zillmann, D., Bryant, J., Comisky, P. W., & Medoff, N. J. (1981). Excitation and hedonic valence in the effect of erotica on motivated intermale aggression. European Journal of Social Psychology, 11, 233–252.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Public HealthUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagen KDenmark
  2. 2.Clinic of SexologyCopenhagen University HospitalCopenhagenDenmark
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyUniversity of California, Los AngelesLos AngelesUSA

Personalised recommendations