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Perceptions of sexual assault: expectancies regarding the emotional response of a rape victim over time

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The present research examined how expectancies for a complainant's emotional response and the consistency of her emotional response over time impact perceptions of sexual assault. Participants (N = 124) were given one of four trial summaries in which the victim's emotional response (i.e. tearful/upset, calm/controlled) was varied at two points in time (i.e. day following the alleged assault, during trial). Similar to past findings, more support for the victim's claim was evidenced when she was portrayed as tearful/upset as opposed to calm/controlled, with participants' perceptions negatively influenced by emotional information that was incongruent with what would be considered typical of a sexual assault victim. Further analyses revealed, however, that emotions displayed at different points interacted to influence perceptions, with the consistently responding victim tending to receive more support for her claim than the victim who responded inconsistently over time. Mediation analyses revealed that the impact of the victim's emotional response on perceptions was mediated by the perceived typicality of her response. Implications of the research suggest, for both psychological and legal professionals alike, that it is incumbent upon those receiving information regarding a rape victim's emotional response to be more aware of its limited value and its potential prejudicial impact.

Keywords: expectancies; juror decision making; rape attitudes; sexual assault; victim credibility

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: East Central University, Ada,Oklahoma, USA 2: York University, Toronto,Ontario, Canada

Publication date: 2012-01-01

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