Date of Graduation

7-2015

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts in Psychology (MA)

Degree Level

Graduate

Department

Psychological Science

Advisor

Lindsay S. Ham

Committee Member

Ana J. Bridges

Second Committee Member

Ellen W. Leen-Feldner

Abstract

Alcohol use and abuse among emerging adults is highly correlated with increased risk for sexual victimization. Alcohol myopia theory has been used to explain impairments in social information processing resulting in decreased attention to environmental social cues including risk factors for sexual assault as well as facial emotional recognition. Those with deficits in social information processing may be at particular risk for the misperception of salient risk factors for sexual assault by victims, perpetrators, and bystanders when intoxicated. In this naturalistic field study, participants who had been consuming alcohol were recruited to engage in tasks of facial emotion recognition and sexual assault risk detection. Participants listened to a vignette depicting a hypothetical sexual assault and provided ratings assessing the women’s desire to have sex, perceptions of consent, assessment of man’s and woman’s responsibility, and the approval of the behavior in the scenario. Breath alcohol concentration was measured at the conclusion of the study. Bivariate correlations revealed breath alcohol intoxication was negatively related to facial emotion identification. Hypotheses related to the moderation of the BAC and risk detection relationship by emotion identification were not supported. Important sex differences emerged such that women displayed on average, greater ability to identify risk in the hypothetical sexual assault scenario. Future research should seek to isolate the differences in the effects of alcohol on social information processing and specifically to sexual assault risk detection between men and women to inform prevention and bystander intervention programs.

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