Psychology ETDs

Publication Date

Fall 10-25-1976


Previous research using affective stimuli in learning and· memory tasks has yielded conflicting results regarding the effects of such stimuli on performance, and there has been little research employing affective photographs in such tasks. The present study was conducted in order to determine the effects of highly explicit sexual photographs of individuals used as stimulus terms in the immediate and delayed paired-associate (P-A) learning of college students. Of particular interest was the extent to which high arousal would differentially affect immediate (Session 1) and delayed (Session 2) P-A performance. The research consisted of a stimulus scaling study and three experiments.

In the stimulus scaling study male and female college students rank ordered sets of photographs along two dimensions, anxiety arousal (AA) and pleasantness-attractiveness (P). The ranked photographs were of adult individuals and consisted of two sex object category (SOC) groups -- men and women. Correlations performed on the mean rankings revealed that AA and P were highly negatively correlated. Difference in rankings between male and female subjects were noted, and discussed in terms of differing social expectations.

The experiments conducted used photographs selected from those ranked in the stimulus scaling study as stimulus terms in two sessions of P-A learning. Medium meaningful nonsense syllables (CVCs) served as response terms. Experiment 1 employed a mixed-list design (items of both High-and Low-AA). Experiment 2 involved a homogeneous-lists design (lists of either High-or Low-AA items). Experiment 3 was a replication of Experiment 1 with the procedural addition of an inter-item number-naming task. In Experiments 1 and 3 subject extraversion (E) and neuroticism (N) were measured by the Eysenck Personality Inventory (EPI).

High-AA was shown to have a pronounced inhibiting effect on P-A performance in both mixed- and homogenous-lists designs. Photographs of women were associated with greater performance error than pictures of men, regardless of the sex of the subject. Conflicting and equivocal results were obtained with regard to sex of subject differences, the effect of AA over trials, and session to session performance.

Neuroticism (N) had an adverse effect on High-E subject performance, and greatly facilitated that of Low-E subjects. There were indications of varying High-AA effect on session to session performance. Most subjects' P-A performance continued to be inhibited by High-AA across sessions, in either old-list or new-list conditions. The Low-E/High-N subject group in the new-list condition, however, demonstrated a facilitation effect.

Overall, the experimentation suggested a great diversity in subjects' means of defensive adaptation to affective stimuli, and this finding was discussed in terms of cognitive and personality style. While anxiety arousal was the overriding factor in determining P-A performance, in its absence such stimulus aspects as sexual attractiveness appeared to retard performance in male subjects.

Degree Name


Level of Degree


Department Name


First Committee Member (Chair)

Karl Koening

Second Committee Member

Thomas Friden

Third Committee Member

Henry Ellis

Fourth Committee Member

Sidney Rosenblum

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Included in

Psychology Commons