Date of Graduation

5-2021

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology (PhD)

Degree Level

Graduate

Department

Psychological Science

Advisor

Ellen Leen-Feldner

Committee Member

Matthew Feldner

Second Committee Member

Douglas Behrend

Keywords

disclosure, peri-traumatic disgust, post-traumatic disgust, self-disgust, Sexual assault

Abstract

Due to high prevalence rates of sexual assault experienced by college-aged women, it remains important to consider factors associated with negative posttraumatic outcomes (e.g., posttraumatic stress disorder). One factor consistently linked to negative outcomes following sexual assault is elevated peri- and posttraumatic disgust. Particularly, when such feelings are self-focused, peri- and posttraumatic disgust is linked with feelings of dirtiness (mental contamination). The current study extends this line of research to disclosure behavior. Disclosing a sexual assault to another person can be beneficial, however many survivors will never disclose. Theoretical accounts suggest that specific feelings associated with a sexual assault may serve as a barrier to disclosure, however, there is little work examining the role of disgust broadly or its specific targets (e.g., self-and perpetrator-focused disgust) in disclosure behavior. Therefore, the current study aimed to examine whether, relative to listening to an anger-relevant script, listening to a script about a sexual assault designed to elicit disgust, plays a role in individuals’ willingness to disclose a hypothetical sexual traumatic event as well as outcome expectancies about disclosing the event. This research question was addressed in a sample of 241 female college students (M = 19.10; SD = 2.39). It was hypothesized that 1) disgust-relevant scripts would elicit higher levels of self- and perpetrator-focused disgust compared to anger-relevant scripts (i.e., replication of the pilot study findings), 2) the disgust script would elicit decreased disclosure behavior compared to the anger script, and 3) self, but not perpetrator-focused, disgust elicited by the disgust script would be linked with decreased disclosure behavior. Results indicated that the disgust-relevant script elevated self-focused disgust but not perpetrator-focused disgust compared to the anger script. Further, the disgust script elevated self-focused anger, suggesting disgust-relevant experiences may drive internalized negative affect. Contrary to thesecond and third hypotheses, no relation between disgust responding and disclosure behavior was observed. Exploratory analyses similarly obtained null effects with regard to the link between disgust and disclosure behavior. Limitations of the current study and future directions for this important research area are discussed.

Available for download on Saturday, December 18, 2021

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