Effects of gender, rape-supportive attitudes, and explicit instruction on perceptions of women’s momentary sexual interest
Contemporary models of male-initiated sexual aggression toward female acquaintances implicate misperception of women’s sexual interest. This study investigated the effects of gender, rape-supportive attitudes and an instructional manipulation on college students’ sexual-interest judgments. Two hundred seventy-six women and 220 men judged the cues of momentary sexual interest expressed by photographed women; half received instruction on the differential validity of nonverbal cues of sexual interest for estimation of women’s momentary sexual interest. Participants also completed an assessment of rape-supportive attitudes. Overall, college students’ perceptions of women’s momentary sexual interest are compromised both nomothetically and idiographically. Both male and female college students relied not only on women’s nonverbal affect but also on the provocativeness of women’s clothing and attractiveness when judging women’s sexual interest. Men and women showed similar average ratings, but women relied more than men on women’s affect, whereas men relied more than women on women’s attractiveness. Both male and female students who endorsed more rape-supportive attitudes, relative to their peers, relied less on women’s affect and more on women’s clothing style and attractiveness. Explicit instruction regarding the greater validity of women’s affective than nonaffective cues enhanced focus on nonverbal affective cues and decreased focus on clothing style and attractiveness. Although higher rape-supportive attitudes predicted more deficits in processing cues of sexual interest, explicit instruction proved to be effective for both higher-risk and lower-risk participants. These findings highlight the generalizability of the well-established effects of explicit instruction on category learning to sexual perception and may point to procedures that eventually could be incorporated into augmented prevention programs for sexual aggression on college campuses.