Many theories and much research has been conducted on contraception in general, and more recently on condoms in particular, as a result of the AIDS epidemic (Lear, 1995). Condom usage and AIDS education are essential tools for reducing the impact of the disease, yet fewer than one third of sexually active college students report consistent condom use (Seal & Palmer-Seal, 1996).
It seems that sexually active individuals rarely discuss safer sex or ask about their partner’s sexual activity before engaging in sexual activity (Seal & Palmer-Seal, 1996). This raises some questions as to the origin of the avoidance of safer sex discussion. It has been found that the interpersonal reactions of sexual partners, rather than the less direct thoughts of AIDS risk, influence attitudes towards condoms and condom usage (Casteneda & Collins, 1995). These personal interactions among partners in a sexual relationship are a result of attitudes each partner carries about sex, contraception and a sexual relationship itself. Attitudes can be ascertained by means of person perception evaluations, which present the behaviors of a target person (e.
g., introducing a condom) and categorize the social meanings imposed on the actor within the situation (Castenada & Collins, 1995). In order to accurately evaluate the social meanings within a sexual relationship using a person perception paradigm, the paradigm itself, as well as the communication patterns about the relationship and condom usage must be assessed.
Person Perception Paradigm and This Study
The efficacy of the person perception paradigm for accurately gathering the social meanings implied by certain actions has been proven in past research (Collins & Brief, 1995). It has been ascertained that target subject’ s behaviors within a vignette are the foundation for impressions the participants form about the social meanings of actions. Collins and Brief have gone on to argue that the vignette methodology is better able to collect the social meanings derived from actions than interview questions, because often impressions that are formed about another’s actions are not conscious attitude formations. Behavior interpretation often occur through automatic and intuitive means (Collins, 1997; lecture). While most research directly asks participants what they think, person perception studies a more subtle means of gaining the participants reactions.
The current study used a person perception test to evaluate the attitudes of participants about women in a sexual relationship when she either proposed a condom, or said nothing about contraception, while expressing either concern or saying nothing about her emotional state. There were four different possible types of situations that the male observers could have been given: the “concerned” female who did not propose a condom, the “concerned” female who said, “I have a condom with me,” the female who said nothing and did not propose a condom, and the female who said nothing about her emotional state, but said she had a condom with her. These females were then evaluated by male observers on various aspects of her perceived personality. Males rated the females on such items as, if they were active or passive, if they were promiscuous or not, etc. No other research has addressed a sexual situation where women talk about their feelings and present a condom in a person perception paradigm. It will be interesting to see how the male participants assess the situation.
This study used six different scales comprised of separate items in order to accurately assess the perceptions the male observers held about the female targets. The scales were a “Sexual attractiveness” scale, which determined how sexually attractive the woman was, a “Responsibility” scale, which determined the extent to which the woman was responsible, a “Takes Charge” scale, which assessed the male observer’s ideas about how active the women in the situations were and two other scales which assessed how “Nice” and “Exciting” the woman was. It is hypothesized that there will be high correlations between the separate items within each of these scales, which indicates that the items will be measuring similar properties. But there will be low correlations between any two scales and between any items and a separate scale, which will indicate that the scales were measuring different attributes.
Past Research on the Person Perception Paradigm
Past research has found that people do make judgments based on the contraceptive choices that target persons choose and the conditions they have made the choices under, concerning abortion decisions (Allgeier, Allgeier & Rywick, 1979: as cited in McKinney et al., 1987). It has also been found that contraceptive behavior is evaluated differently by an outside observer that is exposed to a vignette depicting a sexual situation involving issues of contraception, and personal attitudes of the target subject, such as the one tested in this study (McKinney et al., 1987). Other studies have evaluated the person perception design within partners involved in a sexual relationship (Lear, 1995), and have found that people within relationships also rate their partners actions as indicative of symbolic meanings, similar to results obtained from observers of sexual relationship vignettes. This type of symbolic inference has been tested in the current study.
Impressions that people form of others are based on the others actions and language they use within a social situation. In the current study, the participants are not told what actions are taken by the target persons within the scenario concerning contraception use, only the target woman’s verbal discourse is disclosed (i.e. the participants don’t know if she did what she said, only what she said). Therefore it is important to evaluate communication within a sexual relationship in order to accurately assess what the social meanings of communication in a relationships are, and what attitudes others have about this discourse is.
Communication Within The Sexual Relationship
Communication involves an assessment of shared ideas and beliefs – – what is and is not agreed upon by the participants (Schlenker & Weigold, 1992). One’s audience influences the style and manner in which one communicates – – who one’s partner is influences how and what one says to that partner (Schlenker & Weigold, 1992). How these communication tactics are manifested in an early sexual relationship is relevant to the current study because of the content of its scenario. It seems that within early sexual relationships ambiguity around sexual communication is the norm (Lear, 1995). Perhaps because the situation is not very established or familiar, safer sex discussion usually consists of general discussion about concerns not related to the particular relationship itself (Cline et al., 1992: as cited in Seal & Palmer-Seal, 1996). Directness of approach on the subject of subject of sex usually involves the male partner within a heterosexual relationship more often than the female in early romantic situations (Lear, 1995). It will be interesting to see how the male respondents rate a female who expresses concern about the sexual situation, as compared to a female target who says nothing about her emotional state. I hypothesize that the female who expresses concern will be seen as more nice than the one who says nothing, but not very exciting. She will be seen as responsible, but not that sexually attractive, and finally as taking charge in the situation. Since sexual decision making is dependent on open communication within a sexual relationship, which is not often found within the dating stages of young, college age students (Lear, 1995), condom usage is often conducted under constrained choices and may be hindered. This type of inhibited discourse that is typical of early sexual relationships is reflected in this “concern” scenario of the experiment, and is hypothesized to elicit mixed responses.
Attitudes and self-perceptions about condom use can be approached in a behavioral way. Are attitudes about condoms acted upon because of previous self-perceptions or do people who use condoms adopt the attitudes that are associated with condom usage? An evaluation of smoking sheds some light on this question. It seems that people begin to smoke because it correlates to a pre-existing set of self-relevant beliefs (Chassin et al., 1981). If this is also true of condom usage behaviors, then it follows that people who think condoms and safer sex are a good idea will follow-through and use them, but that people who do not have positive attitudes towards condoms are not likely to gain them through usage of condoms. The idea of attitudes affecting behaviors relates to this study, because what is being assessed is the attitudes men have about female target’s sexual behavior. The men will see the woman who introduces a condom as having attitudes that are sympathetic to condom usage. What exactly these attitudes are will be investigated.
Attitudes towards condoms often depend on the perceived risk of contracting AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases as well a person’s perceived self-efficacy in proposing them (van der Pligt & Richard, 1994). For example, most sexually active adolescents do not feel susceptible towards AIDS (van der Pligt & Richard, 1994) and therefore do not use condoms in their social interactions. The factor of low perceived risk is recurrent and pervasive across many sexually active groups (Lear, 1995). If the sexually active individual does not perceive themselves as at risk for sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS, they are not very likely to use condoms to have safer sex.
If a person does see themselves as at risk for sexually transmitted diseases other’s perceptions of them may be different than the perception of someone who does not think they are at risk. While it is true that every person who is sexually active has the potential to contract a sexually transmitted disease, this is not often recognized by sexually active youth (Lear, 1995). Since young people often do not recognize the pervasiveness of the problem, they may judge people who are aware of their susceptibility as more promiscuous or in a negative light as compared to those that do not discuss the topic of safer sex (and presumably do not bring it up because they don’t think they are at risk, i.e., they do not engage in sexually risky behavior such as multiple partners). In this study, the idea of perceived risk as presented by the female target (“I have a condom with me”) to the male observers may influence their perceptions of the women. Specifically, women who say that they have a condom with them will be perceived as more sexually appealing, more responsible, less nice, more exciting and more “takes charge” than the woman who does not offer a condom. Thus, women who present condoms will be seen as more susceptible to sexually transmitted diseases, which incurs various impressions about her personality – ones that are different from the impressions formed by a woman who does not present a condom. The difference between the two perceptions that men make about women who propose condoms may be for reasons other than their perceptions of “at risk” individuals as well.
Another area that may affect how men perceive women who propose condoms as compared to those that do not, may be a result of a double standard. A double standard allows men to have more sexual freedom than women. A modern adaptation of the traditional idea of the double standard is the idea of the conditional double standard (Reiss, 1967: as cited in Sprecher & McKinney, 1993). This standard says that men can engage in any type of premarital sex, but that women can only engage in sex if they are in a love relationship. Since the current study presents a sexual encounter that is relatively new and does not specify that it is a love relationship, observers will infer that it is not a love relationship, but more of a recreational sexual encounter. The actions that the woman in the situation exhibits may create a more negative view of her when she does not present a condom, than when she does. For, although the woman in engaging in premarital sex in a casual relationship, the woman who openly supplies a condom in this situation may be seen as more comfortable with this type of situation than a woman who does not offer a condom and therefore she will be evaluated as more sexual and less “nice.” These results have been found in another study which showed that women who carried condoms with them held a stigma: they were associated with evaluations of worthlessness (Wight, 1992; as cited in Lear, 1995). Having a condom indicates a lack of sexual innocence, which has been perceived as unfeminine (Lear, 1995). Lear encompassed the broad effect condom usage has on personal perceptions of the self and others who use condoms, when she observed that, “condoms carry meanings that can differ for each sexual partner and over time, and these meanings are illustrative of the gendered nature of responsibility and what is considered appropriate behavior in contraception and safer sex” (p.1314).
In summary, the purpose of this study is to assess what impressions are formed by male participants about female targets who express concern and propose condoms in a sexual situation. It is predicted that a female who expresses concern will be seen as more nice, less exciting, more responsible, less sexually attractive, and more actively involved than the female who says nothing. Another hypothesized result of the current study is that a female who says she has a condom with her will be seen as less nice, more exciting, more responsible, more sexually appealing, and more “takes charge” than the woman who says nothing. Implicit in these prediction is the idea that the items within these scales are correlated with one another, but that the scales themselves measure separate attributes.
The correlation matrix (see Table 1) to be presented here includes dependent variable groups labeled “Takes Charge,” “Sexual Attractiveness,” “Responsible,” “Nice,” and “Exciting” scales. First the intra-scale correlations, then the between-scale correlations, and finally the scale-item correlations of the “Nice” and “Exciting” scales will be presented.
Within Scale (Item-Item) Correlations
The between item, intra-scale correlations for the “Takes Charge” scale (the blue triangle in Table 1) were of moderate convergent validity, as shown by their moderate correlation mean (r = .47). The dependent variables within this scale were the Active, Brave, and Strong items, with relatively similar correlation values of .34, .57, and .49, respectively. The second group of intra-scale correlations, within the “Sexual Attractiveness” scale (the red triangle in Table 1), yielded a high convergent validity (r = .51). The scale was composed of the following items: Good in Bed, Desirable Date, Physically Attractive and Sexually Appealing. The range of these intra-scale correlations was dispersed between r = .32 and r = .72. The Responsible scale was composed of four items (Responsible, Conscientious, Reliable, and Dependable) that suggest high convergent validity, as evidence by the high correlation mean (r = .57) (as seen in the green triangle in Table 1). The specific correlation values for the dependent variables were dispersed evenly between r = .67 and r = .49.
Table 1: Correlation Matrix of the dependent variables in the “Takes Charge,” “Sexual Attractiveness,” “Responsible,” “Nice” and “Exciting” Scales
5. Desirable Date.03.24.22.321
6. Physically .220.127.116.11.361
12. All dependent.00.28.30.14.18.104.22.168.57.70.701
13. All dependent.22.214.171.124.29.42.60-.08-.14-.16-.10 .061
Between Scale (Item-Item) Correlations
The between-scale, inter-item correlations were assessed for the “Takes Charge,” “Sexual Attractiveness” and “Responsible” scales. A comparison of the “Takes Charge” and “Sexual Attractiveness” scales (shown within the large yellow rectangle in Table 1) revealed a mean correlation for the between-scale items as r = .28: correlation values ranged from r = .03 to r =.40. Although the scale had two outliers (r = .03 and r = .40), the two extreme values nullified each other’s significance in the final computation of the mean correlation value. Thus, the average of the between-item correlations can be described as having a moderately high discriminate validity (difference between scale items). The second between-item correlation rectangle (the large pink rectangle in Table 1) shows the correlations between the “Takes Charge” items and the “Responsible” scale items. The mean correlation value was r = .12, with a range of r = .27 to r = -.06, indicating that the two scales were not correlated: their correlation values indicate high discriminate validity between the two scales. The third between-scale correlations, which assess the similarities between the “Sexually Attractive” and “Responsible” scales, are found within the large blue rectangle on Table 1. The items of these scales also had a low correlation (r = .12) with a range of r = .34 to r = -.06. The Physically Attractive dependent variable had a higher correlation (r = .33) to the “Responsible” scale items than the rest of the “Sexual Attractiveness” dependent variables. Although this higher correlation raised the mean between-scale correlation value, the scale still provide evidence for high discriminate validity.
Between Scale (Item-Scale) Correlations
The scale-item correlations compared the “Nice” scale to the other scale’s items. The “Takes Charge” items’ correlation values provided evidence for a high discriminate validity compared to the “Nice” scale (r = .19) (as seen in the small red rectangle on Table 1). The scale-item scores for Active, Brave and Strong were r = .00, r = .28, and r = .30, respectively. The scale-item correlations between the “Sexual Attractiveness” scale and the “Nice” scale (seen in the small yellow rectangle in Table 1) were slightly higher, but still held moderate discriminate validity (r = .31), with a range of r = .14 to r = .53. The “Responsible” scale’s dependent variables had the highest correlation to the “Nice” scale (r = .64), the correlations between the “Responsible” items and the “Nice” scale suggested a low discriminate validity (as seen in the small pink rectangle in Table 1).
The high correlation values of the item to scale analyses between the “Exciting” scale and the “Takes Charge” and “Sexual Attractiveness” items provided evidence for a low discriminate validity between these items and the “Exciting” scale. The specific correlations between the “Takes Charge” scale items and the “Exciting” scale were .39 (Active), .45 (Brave), .40 (Strong), resulting in a mean of r = .41 (in the small green rectangle on Table 1). The correlations among the items within the “Sexual Attractiveness” scale (as seen in the small orange rectangle in Table 1) provided evidence for an even lower discriminate validity when paired to the “Exciting” scale (r = .48). Upon comparrison of the scale-item correlations of the “Takes Charge” and the “Sexual Attractiveness” items to the “Nice” scale (r = .19 and r = .31, repectively), to the correlations of the “Takes Charge” and “Sexual Attractiveness” items to the “Exciting” scale (r = .41 and r = .48, repectively), it can be seen that the “Nice” scale was less similar to these items than the “Exciting” scale (the values for the “Nice” scale suggest lower discriminate validity).
The correlations between the “Responsible” scale items and the “Nice” scale were of lower discriminate validity (r = .64) than the correlations between the “Responsible” items and the “Exciting” scale (r = -.12). The low correlations among the “Responsible” scale’s dependent variables and the “Exciting” scale indicate high discriminate validity (as seen in the small blue rectangle in Table 1). The between-scale correlation value for the “Nice” and “Exciting” scale had a low mean (r = .06), and therefore suggested a high discriminate validity as well (as seen in the small red square on Table 1).
The independent variables of condom proposal (either nothing was said or the female target said, “I have a condom with me”) and context sentence (either nothing was said or the female target said, “I have been concerned”) were analyzed on the responses male participants gave on the five scales of “Takes Charge,” “Sexual Attractiveness,” “Responsible,” “Nice,” and “Exciting” in this between-subjects design.
The “Takes Charge” scale showed significant main effects of condom proposal. Female targets were seen as significantly more “Takes Charge” when they proposed a condom (M = 5.29) than when they did not (M = 4.52), F(1, 60) = 10.12, p = .002 (see Table 2). However, The context sentence used did not seem to alter observers responses, because a main effect was not statistically evident (as seen in Table 2). Similarly, no interactions were found between the two independent variables for this scale.
Table 2: Mean Ratings of “Takes Charge” as a Function of Condom Proposal and Context Sentence
A significant main effect for context sentence was found for the “Sexual Attractiveness” scale. The participants rated the target as more “Sexually Attractive” (see Table 3) when they said nothing (M= 5.36) than when they said that they said that they were “concerned” (M = 4.89), F(1, 60) = 7.85, p = .006. Unlike the previous scales, the rating of “Sexual Attractiveness” did not differ in regards to the condom proposal variable (see Table 3). The variables of condom proposal and context sentences did not show any significant interactions amongst them.
Table 3: Mean Ratings of “Sexual Attractiveness” as a Function of Condom Proposal and Context Sentence
As seen in Table 4, the target was perceived as significantly more “Responsible” when she professed that she was “concerned” (M = 5.46) than when she said nothing (M = 4.83), F(1, 16) = 60, p = .001. Although the averages for condom proposal differed, there were no statistical differences between proposing a condom or saying nothing for the rating of “Responsibility.” As in the other scales’ statistical analysis, there were no interactions found for this scale.
Table 4: Means for “Responsible” Ratings as a Function of Condom Proposal and Context Sentence
The target was assessed as significantly more “Nice” (see Table 5) when she expressed “concern” (M = 5.34) than when she said nothing (M = 5.07), F(1, 60) = 3.82, p = .052. She was also seen as statistically more “Nice” when she proposed a condom with her (M = 5.24) than when she said nothing (M = 5.17), F(1,60) = 2.70, p = .102. There was a significant interaction found among the independent variables F(1,60) = 7.06, p = .009. Women who said nothing were considered more “Nice” when they did not propose a condom (M = 4.88) than when they did (M = 4.79). But when the female target said she was concerned, the participants rated her differently. The observers saw the target as less “Nice” when she said nothing (M =5.37) than when she said she had a condom with her (M = 5.55).
Table 5: Mean Ratings For The “Nice” Scale as a Function of Condom Proposal and Context Sentence
Main effects for the “Exciting” scale (see Table 6) were found for both independent variables as well. The female target was seen as more “Exciting” when she did not propose a condom (M = 4.47) than when she expressed that she had a condom with her (M = 4.80), F(1, 60) = 5.59, p = .019. The female target was also seen as more “Exciting” when she said nothing (M = 4.98) than when she said she was “concerned” (M = 4.40), F(1, 60) = 17.35, p = .001. Significant interactions were not rendered within this scale.
Table 6: Mean Ratings For The “Exciting” scale as a Function of Condom Proposal and Context Sentence
This study was conducted to ascertain what types of perceptions people acquire towards other’s actions within a sexual situation. Specifically, what male observers thought of women’s actions in a sexual situation. Different scales were formed to assess the observer’s perceptions of the targets actions within this situation. The women who said they were concerned about the situation were perceived differently than the women who said nothing about the situation. Similarly, women who proposed a condom (that she brought) was evaluated differently than the woman who did not propose a condom.
Before the dependent variables could be used as gauges of different and distinct evaluations of the targets by the observers, it had to be ascertained that when they were grouped into larger scales the scales were indicative of certain evaluations (i.e. the Active, Brave and Strong dependent variables grouped all reflected an evaluation of “Takes Charge”). This was done by running some statistical analysis on the various descriptive terms to assess first, if they were similar enough to each other to validate their being grouped together into one scale and secondly, whether they were different enough from each other between the items and the scales and also between any two scales, to be considered different scales. As seen in Table 1, the similarities within scale’s items and the differentiations between scales were achieved. Since the “Nice” and “Exciting” items are inherent aspects of all evaluations, one of these scales was always slightly associated with items within the other scales, a phenomenon that has been found within most person perception evaluations (Casteneda & Collins, 1995; Collins & Brief, 1995; Mc Kinney et al., 1987; Chassin et al., 1981).
Context Sentence: I am Concerned Vs. Nothing
As hypothesized, the woman who vocalized her feelings (“I am concerned”) was perceived as different from the woman who said nothing on four of the five measurement scales. As seen in Tables 3, 4, 5, & 6, women who were “concerned” were rated by observers as less sexually attractive, more responsible, more nice and less exciting as compared to the woman who said nothing. These results are similar to rationale given to results of other studies on sexual communication. That is, emotional reactions to a sexual situation have been hypothesized based on other tested sexual communications, but have never been directly tested in a person perception paradigm (Lear, 1995; Castenada & Collins, 1995). However, on the scale that measured the female target’s initiative (“Takes Charge” scale) there was no perceived difference recorded by the observers between the context sentence. Originally it was hypothesized that the woman who expressed concern would be more bold than the woman who said nothing, simply because she voiced an opinion. Since the results did not corroborate this hypothesis, something in the theorizing must have been incorrect. Perhaps the problem with this reasoning was that it did not take into account the meaning of the statement. Although the woman might have been “taking charge” by voicing something she was not perceived as being especially brave or strong by saying “I am concerned.” Emotional pleas to contraceptive use have been hypothesized as less likely to elicit perceptions of competence than other means in other studies as well (Lear, 1995). It would be interesting to pursue the use of different types of emotional pleas in future research. Perhaps context sentences including, “I am concerned,” as well as other sentences such as, “I’m anxious,” and “I feel weird about this,” and “I’m uncomfortable” could be used in future studies on other’s perceptions of how emotional feelings affect different personality measures.
Condom Proposal: “With Me” Vs. Nothing
It was hypothesized that a woman who claimed to have a condom with her would be more “Takes Charge,” more “Sexually Attractive,” more “Responsible,” less “Nice,” and more “Exciting” than the woman who said nothing about a condom. However only some of these hypotheses were confirmed by statistical analysis of the results (as seen in Tables 2-6). Respondents did rate women who proposed a condom as more active and initiative than the woman who said nothing. This result corroborates other studies that view condom proposal as indicative of self efficacy (van der Pligt & Richard, 1994; Bengel et al., 1996). Previous studies have also predicted and found that assertiveness is correlated with condom usage (Bengel et al., 1996). The respondents also rated the condom proposer as less “Nice” than the woman who did not propose a condom, as hypothesized. An interaction was found in the way the participants rated the likability of the target. She was seen as less nice when she proposed a condom and said nothing than when she just said nothing, but she was rated most nice when she proposed a condom and expressed concern. This difference in tone of the context a condom is proposed in can be observed in a previous study. Women who introduced a condom with a theme of care and responsibility were seen as more nice than a woman who introduced a condom and used a context sentence which focused on the partner (without explicit care or responsibility themes) (Casteneda & Collins, 1995). The adjective “caring” can be correlated with the current study’s use of the word “concern.” When a woman is perceived as caring, it’s “nice” of her to introduce a condom, but if she is just focused on the partner, or as in this study, says nothing, concern is not sensed by the participant and he rates her as less nice. Thus, the seemingly conflicting findings of the ratings of condom proposal and concern in this study are probably the result of relationship type; in less caring or more casual sexual relationships, women who propose condoms are less “Nice.” Similar results have been found when observers have evaluated the condom usage in other casual sexual relationships (Lear, 1995).
The other hypotheses were not confirmed. Women were not seen as more attractive when they proposed a condom than when they did not. This may be because a woman who says nothing is perceived as more mysterious and thus more sexual than a woman who says nothing. In a similar study it was found that a condom proposal in a relationship elicited higher ratings for “Sexual Attractiveness” for people who proposed a condom as compared to those who didn’t (Castenada & Collins, 1995). As in the consideration of the “Nice” results, this difference may be because of the relationship type. That study also found that males responded differently to this rating than did females, and also that the ethnicity of the rater influenced their rating of “Sexual Attractiveness.” Since it has been found that sex and ethnicity influence ratings of attractiveness for condom proposal, future studies using this paradigm should involve both sexes and different ethnicities in order to get a more complete picture of the exact ways the perception of “Sexual Attractiveness” of an individual differs across the population.
Surprisingly, the woman who proposed a condom was not seen as more “Responsible” than the woman who said nothing. This result seems counterintuitive to the inferences given to safer sex behavior in sexual encounters. One explanation of this result can be postulated based on the new expectancies associated with sexual behavior in the era of AIDS. This is reflected by the responses within one study on safer sex practices, where respondents explained their lack of discussion about safer sex was because safer sex was expected and not an area where negotiation was needed (Bengel et al., 1996). Thus, those results can be applied to the little differentiation found between condom proposal and no condom proposal in this study. That is, perhaps women who did not explicitly propose a condom were not seen as less responsible because it was assumed by the observers that a condom would be used in a sexual situation such as the one depicted. In order to clarify the exact thought process that the observers used to evaluate the accountability of the women targets in the situation, future studies should include a third presentation. This situation would depict a woman who did not propose a condom, while indicating that she did not plan to use one. The observers might then be forced to evaluate the women who propose or do not propose condoms differently.
The other hypothesis that was not confirmed by the statistical analysis was the hypothesis that the woman who proposed a condom would be seen as more “Exciting” than the woman who said nothing. It was reasoned that the woman would be seen as more exciting because using a condom might lead observers to conclude that she was more sexually active than saying nothing would have. Perhaps proposing a condom is less risky, and therefore condom proposal is perceived as less exciting than saying nothing in this context.
This study had a few potential problems in the way that it was constructed. While it provided a valuable look into how females are evaluated by males in a sexual situation, the situation may have been slightly confusing to the participants because of a problem with the ecological validity of the situation. For example, one of the possible scenarios an observer could have been exposed to was a sexual scenario where the target woman says “I am concerned” and who doesn’t offer a condom. This manipulation lacks ecological validity, because in the real world, if a woman said that her partner might respond by saying “what are you concerned about” or something to that effect, thus getting at the reason behind her concern. In this experiment, no other explanation is given to this context sentence and observers are left to interpret this cryptic message for themselves. It was used as part of the experiment to see how people react to just an emotional plea and balance the manipulation of variables, but it is not at all realistic. Perhaps the participants who were told to respond to this a scenario were confused and not able to complete the person perception evaluation because of the confusion. Similarly, participants who were given the scenario where the target said nothing about either her emotional state or a condom might have wondered what they were supposed to be basing my evaluation on to fill out the questionnaire. It may have been interesting to have each respondent exposed to each scenario and use the nothing/nothing scenario as that respondent’s baseline – – measuring his other responses when they diverged from this baseline. A within-subjects design is proposed for future research to compare participants reactions to different scenarios.
Another methodological issue that was problematic in this study, that is apparent in many studies which utilize rating scales, was that the respondents never varied much from the middle of the scale. This showed that they did not rate the person as strongly one way or another for any one scale. For example, on a scale of 1 to 7 (1 = Active and 7 = Passive) a respondent for any given scenario usually rated the target as a 4. Although there was often enough variation to suggest statistical difference between ratings, the average rating of 4 is right in the middle of the scale and this response is ambiguous. Perhaps the respondent didn’t think the target was either, or perhaps he didn’t have any feeling about this evaluation, so he chose neither, or perhaps he did not feel like answering the questionnaire, so he only marks 4’s. Any of these explanations may be correct, all with the same outcome. There is not much variation from the middle for any of the scales, which indicates that may be the scales need to be altered in order for more respondents to practice more variation among their assessments. If they varied their scoring more, the differences among the various scales would be larger and we could tell more clearly where their perceptions lay. One possible alteration to the scale might be to use more scales, without such dichotomous word choices, that were more specific to the situation. For example, the Active/Passive scale might be broken into two scales, one which measures Very Actively Involved to Actively Involved and then another scale which rated Somewhat Actively Involved to Passive About Issues. In this way the experimenter might be able to more accurately gather the respondent’s true impressions of the target in a sexual situation.
Another problem that could be addressed in future studies is that the current study was aimed at evaluating people’s perceptions of sexual situation involving the use of condoms, and yet there was no mention of the reason why condoms as opposed to other methods of contraception was given. Since condoms are an important part of sexual disease prevention this aspect of their use should have been one of the manipulations used. Perhaps another factor could behave been added to the context sentence, about the target’s concern about AIDS or another sexually transmitted disease. A future study that questioned participant’s impressions of women who mentioned each type of sexually transmitted disease that college age students are exposed to, might help in the development of intervention strategies for combating the spread of these diseases.
How This Study’s Findings Relate to AIDS Intervention Programs
Although this study did not specifically mention AIDS in it’s manipulations, the results of participant’s perceptions toward a target who introduced a condom is relevant to AIDS intervention programs. As it has been emphasized, any sexually active person is capable of carrying the disease – – indicating that a vast majority of the population is at risk (Surgeon General). Because of the prevalence of people at risk and (as the current study has found) the prevalence of different impressions about women who express concern or propose a condom in a sexual situation, prevention models must be created to effectively confront the disease. Personal perceptions of other’s decisions are relevant to every facet of the AIDS intervention process. AIDS must be addressed on the individual, familial, local organizational, and communal levels to be effective (Flora & Thoresen, 1989), and all of these levels involve personal perceptions of the issue. Not only do person’s perception affect people on an individual level, people’s perceptions of others vary in response to the type of groups others are affiliated with as well. Intervention programs must be sensitive to the multitude of influences which affect people’s decisions in order to be effective. As Flora & Thoresen have pointed out racial, ethnic, socio-economic and gender status each contribute to the individual differences that must be part of the intervention process (1989). Much more research is needed to find out the exact ways that people perceive others who use condoms in order to better target attitudes of the people involved in intervention programs, so that their attitudes towards safer sex will be healthy ones.
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