6. Zillmann and Bryant (1982)

The question: what are the consequences of continued exposure to pornography on beliefs about sexuality in general and on attitudes towards women?

The experiment:

Part One:

  • 80 male and 80 female participants are divided into four subgroups

  • Massive Exposure Group: saw 36 short, non-violent porn films (about 5 hours of film) over six weeks.

  • Intermediate Exposure Group: saw 18 short, non-violent porn films and 18 regular films over six weeks.

  • No Exposure Group: saw 36 regular films.

  • Control Group: saw no films, not brought in till the second phase.

Part Two:

  • Participants read about a rape case and were asked to recommend a the length of the prison sentence for the rapist.

  • They were also asked to indicate their support for the women’s rights movement on a 0 to 100 scale.

  • Finally, they were asked to estimate the popularity of various sexual acts among the general population.

Results:

  • In recommending a prison term for a rapist, folks in the Massive Exposure Group chose, on average, prison terms that were half as long as terms recommended by the people in the No Exposure Group. (A five-year sentence versus a ten-year sentence)

  • When asked to rate their support for women’s rights, men and women in the Massive Exposure Group indicated about half as much support as participants in the No Exposure Group. (38% versus 76%)

  • Finally, men and women in the Massive Exposure Group rated anal sex, group sex, and bestiality at least twice as common as did the No Exposure Group.  (For example, the Massive Exposure Group estimated that 30% of Americans had group sex, while the No Exposure Group estimated only 11% did.  The Massive Exposure Group also estimated that 12% of Americans were having sex with animals.)

Conclusion: Zillmann and Bryant conclude that massive exposure to pornography made rape appear a more trivial offense, which seemed also to parallel a drop in support for women’s rights.  Also, intensive porn-viewing led to beliefs that unusual sexual acts are far more common than they really are.

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