Psychology ETDs

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This study examined the cognitive processes underlying the optimistic bias in womens sexual victimization risk judgments and factors that may influence those processes. Participants were 423 undergraduate women between the ages of 18-24. The stimuli were 81 vignettes depicting dating and social situations varying in degree of sexual victimization risk and impact on the woman's popularity. Participants read the vignettes and imagined either themselves (in the Self condition) or an anonymous undergraduate woman (in the Other condition) in the situations and classified each vignette as either high or low risk. Participants also completed measures of sexual victimization history, sociosexuality, rape myth acceptance, and perceived control. Results indicated that women in the Other condition, relative to the Self condition, classified more situations as high risk and were more sensitive to risk-relevant information when making explicit risk judgments. Additionally, women higher in sociosexuality, relative to women lower in sociosexuality, rated fewer situations as high risk and were less sensitive to both risk and popularity impact information when making explicit risk judgments. Finally, women higher in rape myth acceptance were more sensitive to popularity impact information when making explicit risk judgments. This is the first study to examine the role of sensitivity and bias in the optimistic bias in women's judgments of victimization risk. These specific cognitive processes may be important in explaining and potentially reducing women's optimistic bias and in developing more effective sexual assault prevention programs.

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First Advisor

Yeater, Elizabeth

First Committee Member (Chair)

Angela Bryan, Tim Goldsmith

Second Committee Member

Teresa Treat, Richard Viken




Women college students--Sexual behavior, Sexual harassment--Psychological aspects, Risk perception, Cognitive psychology, Optimism, Rape--Psychological aspects.

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