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Development of IATs for the assessment of offense supportive attitudes

Transgression of sexual borders is a severe societal issue with public health and economical consequences. Implicitly held beliefs about entitlement for sex with women, hostility towards others and women specifically, and uncontrollability of male sexuality are important predictors of male sexual aggression toward adults. Despite this relative importance, assessment of such beliefs to date faces a number of problems. The research project DevIAT aims to overcome some of these problems by developing and validating implicit association tasks (IATs) of implicit theories supporting sexual aggression in males.

To participate in one of the surveys please visit

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"Motivation-Facilitation" model of sexual assault according to Seto 2019

Transgression of sexual borders can take many forms. Most recently, sexual harassment has found increased media attention following reports of sexual harassment experiences by women of many socio-economic backgrounds. Other more intrusive forms of sexual transgressions include forced intercourse or rape.

Transgressions of sexual borders do not evolve out of nowhere. Important situational and environmental factors have been much discussed in the #metoo era. 
Besides such situational and environmental factors, therapists working with sexual offenders focus on personal inclinations of the perpetrators such as beliefs and cognitions predisposing for a sex offense.

Beliefs Underlying Sexual Offending

Forensic psychology has shown specific cognitions to be associated with the onset and maintenance of sexual offenses, for example convictions of sexual entitlement, hostility towards women, or the “uncontrollable nature” of male sexuality. Current research proposes that these cognitions evolve from implicit beliefs, implicit theories or schemata about sexuality, potential sexual partners and the world. The concept was originally developed in the context of child sexual offenses but was later extended to sexual aggression against adults as well. Research in this latter group has found some empirical support for more explicit distorted cognitions in rapists, sexual violent offenders and sexual murderers while the more implicit testing of cognitions, convictions, or schemata has been restricted mostly to child sexual offenders (Ó Ciardha and Ward, 2013).

Implicit Methods

Self-report measures have brought some empirical substantiation to the proposed implicit theories. However, given its explicit nature, self-report can only give hints at the existence of implicit theories. Additionally, self-report is prone to social desirability, especially in the realm of sexual aggression. Clinical interviews have been shown to reliably assess such beliefs e.g. in actuarial risk assessment but are expensive and depend on thorough training for inter-rater reliability. (Hanson, 2007)

Implicit methods are thought to expose underlying attitudes, beliefs, associations, and biases in a way that is less influenced by the individual’s desire to supply socially desirable answers or by giving an answer they wish to be true. Such approaches have often been applied due to the idea that these underlying cognitive paradigms influence behaviours. One study suggests moderate (r=0.38) to strong (r=0.52) correlations between implicit beliefs and related behaviour. (Kraus, 1995; Glasman & Albaraccin, 2006). However, they do not necessarily reflect condonement or a moral evaluation of the behaviour. (Nunes et al., 2013) Nevertheless, implicit methods can be useful tools to uncover possible underlying motivations and offender explanations for criminal acts. (Maruna & Mann, 2006)

Indirect measures of implicit theories have by and large been applied in sexual offenders against children. (Szumiski et al., 2018)  Only few studies have addressed sexual offenders against adults and these have in parts assessed extreme groups of such offenders and examined only single implicit theories. The DevIAT project aims to offer an in depth study of psychiatrically healthy males, a variety of sexual offenders, and combinations of various implicit theories to establish a more complete and integrated understanding of sexual aggression towards women and its underpinnings perpetrated by men. To participate in one of the surveys please visit

The DevIAT project is funded by the European Society for Sexual Medicine (ESSM).