2020 Winner: Harm, Responsibility, and Ambiguity in Judgements about Sexual Behaviors

Project Information
Harm, Responsibility, and Ambiguity in Judgements about Sexual Behaviors
Social Sciences
Psychology 195
*I was granted an extension by the psych department until Monday the 6th, but was told to submit a draft. I will email the completed thesis to the psych department office on Monday, April 6th.
Under the guidance of Dr. Audun Dahl, I plan to complete a senior thesis on the topic of romantic and sexual relations between college aged students. In the past, I have worked with Dr. Dahl on a project titled Reasoning about Social Conventions, in which we studied the way that people view the morality of breaking social and cultural norms. The Reasoning about Romantic/Sexual Relations project (RSR) will be using a similar theoretical framework and methods while applying it to a new genre of social interactions.
In light of the recent Me Too and Times Up movements, sexual assault and inappropriate romantic behavior has been in the spotlight, specifically for college campuses. Recently, there has been a great deal of attention being paid to cases where college administrations have tried to bury and ignore sexual assault allegations in order to protect their athletes, brand, fraternities, etc. It is known that college is a setting in which a large amount of sexual and romantic behavior takes place, inappropriate or otherwise. Thus, it is important to examine how this age group processes and understands different kinds of sexual behavior, and how their opinions about the morality of certain actions or scenarios might impact their contributions towards rape culture on campus.
There is a plethora of literature that discusses sexual aggression, sexual assault, and coercive sexual behaviors, but almost none looking at these events through the lens of morality. The goal of this study is to examine the way people hierarchically categorize different moral values in complex situations where there are multiple moral considerations one might have to make. Instead of asking people about general judgements regarding sexual and romantic relations, which often come across as black and white or right and wrong, the study will present them with realistic vignettes ranging from straightforward consent/non-consent to more ambiguous ones where there might be a bit of a moral grey area. For example, if consent is present but only under coercive conditions, there may be a variation in responses about the morality of that scenario.
Additionally, these situations also occur between two people who have been dating, which gets specifically at ideas surrounding date-rape or acquaintance assault, a topic which tends to be more contested than if the perpetrator was a stranger. In addition, we plan to measure attitudes about rape myth acceptance and possibly attitudes towards women to examine whether there is a correlation between the participants’ ideas about rape and their moral judgements about sexual and romantic behaviors. These surveys will take place online, though we will likely have participants come in person in order to get consent and provide a debrief before and after they start the study.
  • Anjuli Megan Corzine (Cowell)