Cognitive processes in acquaintance rape judgments : an information processing perspective
McFarlane, Jennifer Margaret
Master of Arts
DisciplinePsychology : Clinical
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Acquaintance rape has been considered society's "hidden crime", often being seen as wrong, but not criminal (Bechhofer & Parrot, 1991). In comparison to other violent crimes, rape has the highest rate of acquittal and the lowest rate of conviction (Weiner & Vodanovich, 1986). In many instances victims of rape are held accountable for their victimization (Abbey, 1987). This study investigated the cognitive processes involved in the development of rape judgments and sanctioning decisions. Cognitive structures, namely observer attitudes (rape myth acceptance, sex-role beliefs, hostility towards women), were found to have a mediating role between ambiguous information and the development of inferences (regarding the victim and offender). In mm, the mediational relationship between inferences and consequent rape judgments (perception of rape, victim and offender responsibility and blame) was established. Sanctioning judgments (conviction and punishments) were found to succeed rape judgments. Individuals who had more conventional attitudes (higher rape myth acceptance, traditional sex-role beliefs, more hostility towards women) tended to develop less negative offender inferences (e.g., perceived him as less violent), and more negative victim inferences (e.g., perceived her as more desiring of sex). In turn, they also tended to attribute more responsibility to the victim, and were more reluctant to identify the situation as "rape". Furthermore, these individuals were less willing to convict, and assigned less punishment to the offender. The inverse pattern of inference development, and rape and sanctioning judgments was found for those with more progressive attitudes (less rape myth acceptance, more egalitarian sex-role beliefs, less hostility towards women). Based on hierarchical multiple regression analyses, a model of information processing was proposed.