Date of Graduation

5-2011

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts in Psychology (MA)

Degree Level

Graduate

Department

Psychological Science

Advisor

Matthew T. Feldner

Committee Member

Jeffrey M. Lohr

Second Committee Member

Denise R. Beike

Abstract

Although evidence suggests that disgust and disgust-related phenomena such as mental contamination should be associated with the experience of sexual assault, there has been relatively little direct examination of this relation. Consequently, the primary aim of the current study was to conduct a multimodal assessment of disgust and mental contamination-based reactivity to an individualized script-driven imagery procedure. Participants included 27 sexually assaulted, 25 physically assaulted, and 30 non-traumatized control female adults. Subjective reactivity (i.e., ratings of disgust, anxiety, feelings of dirtiness, and urges to wash), physiological reactivity (i.e., electromyogram activity of the right levator labii superioris and medial frontalis regions) and behavioral responding (i.e., hand washing) were assessed following the presentation of both a neutral and traumatic event script (stressful script for the control group). It was hypothesized that sexually assaulted women would demonstrate elevations in subjective, physiological, and behavioral indices of disgust and mental contamination-based reactivity to the traumatic event script relative to the physical assault and control groups. It was further hypothesized that both assault groups would respond with comparably elevated levels of subjective anxious reactivity (i.e., ratings of anxiety) as compared to the non-traumatized control group. Theoretical and practical implications as well as directions for future research are discussed.

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