Descriptive information only
Descriptive plus outcome information
Subjects were 80 undergraduate students (40 men and 40 women) at a Midwestern university participating as part of a course requirement for an introductory psychology course. Subjects ranged in age from 17 to 24 years, with an average of 19.16 (SD = 1.02). Subjects were recruited by placing an advertisement on the experiment board for introductory psychology students which stated that participants would read through a series of case studies involving sexual behavior and then make judgments.
The experiment consisted of four treatment conditions. Two levels of terminology (neutral vs. negative) were crossed with two levels of information (descriptive only vs. descriptive plus outcome information). Four booklets were prepared corresponding to the four treatment conditions. Each booklet contained a cover page giving instructions, followed by a condensed version of Tindall's (1978) article. At the end of each booklet was a questionnaire, asking subjects to make evaluations based on the article they just read.
In the two versions without outcome data, the instructions read:
In the two versions with the outcome information, the same instructions were provided, except for the following modification:
In all four versions, the condensed article began with a title and background information. Specifically, subjects read that the author was a school psychologist who, in the course of his 30-year career, had encountered 200 cases of male adolescents sexually involved with male adults. Subjects read further that the author was reporting on nine cases for which he had data ranging from puberty to adulthood and that no case was initially referred to the author because of sexual problems.
The cases involved adolescents who were now adults, ranging in age from 25 to 46 years old. Subjects were informed that they would be reading four of
the nine cases. Providing subjects with only four cases was done to reduce the amount of material that they would have to read.
These four cases were randomly selected from the original nine. Following the background information, subjects then read the four case histories involving adolescents with pseudonyms of Denver, Eugene, August, and Jeff.
These adolescents first became involved with male adults when they were 13 or 14 years old.
In the two neutral terminology conditions, the condensed articles used the same title and neutral terms employed by Tindall (1978). The title of these condensed articles was The Male Adolescent Involved with a Pederast Becomes an Adult.
Sexual contacts between the adults and adolescents were referred to as sexual "relations," "relationships," "involvements," "contacts," "practices," "activities," and "encounters". The adolescents were described as "boys," "adolescents," and "youths". The men involved with the adolescents were referred to as "pederasts," "older males," and "men". The adolescents were also referred to by their pseudonyms, and the men were referred to by their professional occupations (e.g., "mechanic" or "professor").
In the two negative terminology conditions, many neutral terms were replaced with negative terms. Articles that use negative terminology also use neutral terms as well. Therefore, to create a more ecologically valid negative terminology article, only about two-thirds or the neutral terms were replaced with negative terms. The title at the head of these condensed articles read The Male Adolescent Sexually Abused by a Child Molester Becomes an Adult.
Sexual contacts were now described as sexual "abuse", "exploitation," "aggression," "attack," "assault," "molestation," and "victimization". The adolescents, in addition to being referred to by their pseudonyms, were now labeled "victims" and "survivors." The men were described as "perpetrators," "child molesters," "offenders," and "exploiters" and were also referred to by their occupations.
Descriptive information only
All four conditions presented case histories of the four adolescents, which included background information (e.g., reason for referral, academic skills, interests) and a brief sexual history, describing age of puberty, any peer sexual involvements, and then the sexual relationship with an adult male. The origins of the relationship were described, as were the types of sexual activities engaged in and the length of the relationship. The two descriptive-only conditions contained only this information - no long-term outcome information was presented.
Descriptive plus outcome information
The other two conditions, in addition to the background and sexual history information, also included long-term outcome information that described the adolescents' functioning as adults.
All adolescents were described as well- adjusted as adults, having incurred no harm from their relationships and having actually benefited from the relationships in three of the cases. For example,
In both the neutral and negative terminology conditions with long-term outcome information, this follow-up information was presented exactly as it appeared in Tindall's (1978) original article - i.e., in the negative terminology condition, neutral terms were not translated to negative terms.
At the end of the booklet was attached a questionnaire consisting of 18 items, assessing subjects' judgments of the adolescents and adults described in the case studies, their judgments of male adolescents and male adults in general cases of sexual involvement, and their perceptions of the objectivity of the condensed article and the appropriateness of the terminology used.
Two demographic items were included at the end of the questionnaire. These 18 items were identical in all conditions - questions were asked using only neutral terms.
The first item read "What do you think was the most likely reaction of the adolescent boys in this study to their sexual involvement with the adult males at the time that the sexual involvement took place?" Below this question was a 13-point bipolar scale, anchored by extremely negative and extremely positive. The intermediate odd-numbered points on the scale were labeled, respectively: very negative, negative, neutral, positive, and very positive.
The second item was "What do you think were the most likely effects of the sexual contacts described in this study on the adolescent boys' overall functioning and adjustment when they became adults?" This item was followed by the same 13-point scale described previously.
Because we thought that subjects in general might assume highly negative reactions, the items concerning subjects' perceptions of immediate and long-term reactions contained 13-point scales to avoid possible floor effects. Labeling the odd-numbered scale values was done to help subjects make adequate distinctions among the scale values.
The third item read "How consenting to their sexual contacts with the adult males do you think the adolescent boys in this study were?" This was followed by a 7-point bipolar scale anchored by not at all and completely.
The fourth item read "How manipulative do you think the men described
in this study were in terms of getting the boys involved sexually?" This was followed by a 7-point bipolar scale anchored by not at all and very much.
The fifth item was "How much therapy do you think the boys described in this study should have received if their sexual involvements with the adult males had been discovered at the time they took place?" This was followed by a 7-point bipolar scale anchored by none and a great deal.
The sixth item was "How would you describe the mental health of the adult males discussed in this study who were involved sexually with the adolescent boys?" This was followed by a 7-point bipolar scale anchored by mentally ill and mentally healthy.
The seventh item read "If they had been discovered, how should the men in this study who were sexually involved with the adolescent boys have been dealt with by the criminal justice system?" This was followed by a 7- point bipolar scale anchored by not dealt with at all and very harshly.
The next seven items were identical to the first seven, except that they were concerned with subjects' evaluations and judgments of male adolescents and male adults in general who are involved in sexual contacts.
For example, the ninth item was "What do you think
are the most likely effects in general of sexual contacts between men and
adolescent boys on the boys' overall functioning and adjustment when they become
Subjects participated in groups ranging from 8 to 16 in one of the psychology labs at the university. When subjects arrived for the experiment, they were reminded of the description for the experiment and were informed that, especially because of the sensitive nature of the stimulus materials, they could withdraw immediately or at any time during the experiment. They were also assured of complete anonymity and confidentially in their participation. An informed consent form that all subjects read and signed repeated all of these points.
No subject declined to participate, and all subjects completed the experiment. After giving participants instructions orally, the experimenter, a male college professor in his 30s, randomly handed out the booklets to subjects, with the one constraint of balancing men and women in the different conditions. When subjects completed the questionnaire at the end of their booklets, they returned the booklets to the experimenter, who then gave them a debriefing sheet.