Influence of Gender and Experience on College Students' Stalking Schemas

By Yanowitz, Karen L. | Violence and Victims, February 2006 | Go to article overview
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Influence of Gender and Experience on College Students' Stalking Schemas


Yanowitz, Karen L., Violence and Victims


Although stalking has been increasingly recognized as a serious social problem, surprisingly few studies have investigated perceptions of the specific behaviors that comprise stalking. The focus of this article, therefore, was to further delineate college students' stalking schemas and to examine the influence of gender and personal knowledge of stalking on their schemas. Participants judged whether or not a variety of behaviors were examples of stalking. Behaviors were designed to range from mild, somewhat ambiguous, examples of stalking to more severe examples. Results revealed an interaction between gender and experience on ratings of mild stalking behaviors. Men who had personal knowledge of stalking (by having been stalked themselves or knowing someone who had been stalked) were significantly more likely to rate mild stalking behaviors as stalking than men who had no experience. In contrast, experience did not affect women's perceptions of mild stalking, as no differences were found between women as a function of experience. Results are discussed in terms of overall relationship schemas.

Keywords: stalking; relationship; schema; gender difference

As individuals repeatedly experience various events in their lives, they begin to develop internal mental representations of those events. In other words, they develop schemas (Fiske & Taylor, 1991; Rumelhart & Norman, 1988; Schank & Abelson, 1977). One can form schemas of almost any event. Relational schemas represent the various types of relationships that exist between people, such as romantic relational schemas or parent-child relational schemas. Possessing relational schemas enables people to function successfully in their social environments (e.g., Alexander, 1993; Baldwin, 1992, 1995). Researchers have examined several types of relational schemas, such as what happens on a first date (Rose & Frieze, 1993), how to get a date (Pryor & Merluzzi, 1985), and what happens when a relationship ends (Battaglia, Richard, Datteri, & Lord, 1998; Honeycutt, Cantrill, & Alien, 1992). Results from these studies have allowed investigators to determine that generally shared schemas exist for these common relationship events. Much of the research on relational schemas has focused on normative relationship events, however, schemas may also represent non-normative events, such as rape (Kahn, Mathie, & Torgler, 1994; Littleton & Axsom, 2003; Ryan, 1988) or stalking, the focus of the current research.

Stalking has been increasingly recognized as a serious social problem and explicit laws against stalking now exist in all 50 states and the District of Columbia (Ravensberg & Miller, 2003). Antistalking laws often include provisions that the stalker engage in unwanted, and typically repeated, pursuit of the victim, resulting in fear and disruption of the victim's daily activities (Cupach & Spitzburg, 1998; Dennison & Thomson, 2002; Ravensberg & Miller, 2003). Although many researchers have explored characteristics of stalking perpetrators and the effects of stalking on victims (e.g., Davis, Frieze, & Maiuro, 2002), a review of the literature on stalking reveals surprisingly few studies specifically devoted to examining people's perceptions of the particular behaviors that comprise stalking. The focus of this article, therefore, is to further delineate college students' stalking schemas and to examine two factors (gender and personal knowledge of stalking) that may influence an individual's perception of what behaviors comprise stalking.

One means used to examine perceptions about stalking has been to present participants with vignettes depicting a hypothetical instance of one person stalking another. Dennison and Thomson (2002) presented scenarios describing a male perpetrator stalking a female target for 5 months. Stalker intention, prior relationship between stalker and target, and the persistence of the stalker were systematically varied in the vignettes.

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