A Computer-Based Educational Intervention to Address Potential Negative Effects of Internet Pornography

By Isaacs, Corey R.; Fisher, William A. | Communication Studies, January-March 2008 | Go to article overview

A Computer-Based Educational Intervention to Address Potential Negative Effects of Internet Pornography


Isaacs, Corey R., Fisher, William A., Communication Studies


There has been much debate over the potential negative effects of exposure to sexually explicit media (SEM), and a considerable amount of research has been devoted to this issue. Empirical findings regarding the assertion that exposure to pornography may have negative effects on men's attitudes and behaviors have been somewhat mixed (see, for example, meta-analyses by Allen, D'Alessio, & Brezgel, 1995; Allen, D'Alessio, & Emmers-Sommer, 1999; Allen, Emmers, Gebhart, & Giery, 1995, and individual research reports including Donnerstein & Berkowitz, 1981; Fisher & Grenier, 1994; Malamuth & Ceniti, 1986; and Malamuth, Addison, & Koss, 2000). Moreover, with recent increases in easily available and highly diverse Internet SEM, researchers have begun to study differential effects, if any, of SEM presented via this medium (e.g., Barak, Fisher, Belfry, & Lashambe, 1999; Fisher & Barak, 2001). In this paper, we examine an intervention that aims to sensitize users to the antisocial messages that may be present in Internet SEM in order to help them resist potential negative effects of exposure to such content. The current research is driven by a review of the existing conceptual (e.g., Fisher & Barak, 1989; Malamuth, 1989; Malamuth et al., 2000) and empirical (e.g., Allen, D'Alessio, & Brezgel, 1995; Allen, Emmers, et al., 1995; Malamuth et al., 2000) literature on possible negative effects of exposure to SEM and on the potential benefits of an educational approach (e.g., Allen, D'Alessio, Emmers, & Gebhardt, 1996) to addressing such effects.

Pornography Research Findings

Empirical findings regarding exposure to SEM and negative effects on men's attitudes and behaviors towards women have been somewhat mixed. Allen and colleagues reported meta-analytic studies of effects of violent pornography ("in which physical force is ... used or threatened to coerce a woman to engage in sexual acts ..." Malamuth, 1984, p. 29) and found that exposure to violent pornography has a significant effect on behavioral aggression against women in laboratory settings (r = .216; Allen, D'Messio, & Brezgel, 1995) and on acceptance of rape myths (r = .103; Allen, Emmers, et al., 1995). The latter effect was greater for experimental (i.e., laboratory) studies (r = .146) than for nonexperimental studies (r = .018). Laboratory studies have revealed that exposure to violent pornography can lead men to fantasize about rape (Malamuth, 1981), to believe that some women may enjoy being raped (Check & Malamuth, 1984), to be more accepting of interpersonal violence against women (Malamuth & Check, 1981), and to be more aggressive against a woman in an experimental setting (Donnerstein, 1984). After reviewing the results of a number of meta-analyses of effects of pornography, Malamuth et al. (2000) concluded that "for the majority of American men, pornography exposure (even at the highest levels assessed here) is not associated with high levels of sexual aggression" (p. 85; see also Seto, Maric, & Barbaree, 2001), although it has been asserted (Malamuth et al., 2000) that men with preexisting inclinations (e.g., psychoticism) may be especially and uniquely susceptible to effects of violent pornography.

It has been suggested that degrading pornography (defined as sexual explicit materials that "degrade, debase, and dehumanize women ... even if they do not contain explicit depictions of violent behavior ..."; Check, 1985, p.9) may also promote calloused attitudes toward women because degrading pornography portrays women as sexually promiscuous, willing to engage in virtually any sort of sexual activity with virtually anyone. Zillmann and Bryant (1984) found that "massive exposure" to degrading pornography (4 hours and 48 minutes of exposure over six weeks) resulted in increases in the perceived popularity of uncommon sexual acts and decreased recommended prison sentences for rapists in a mock trial setting. …

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