Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Faculty of Science

First Advisor

Serge Desmarais

Advisor Role

Thesis Supervisor


Past research in the area of rape has focused on rates of acquaintance or date rape (Koss. 1985), the perception of rape victims (Shotland & Goodstein, 1983; Tieger. 1981) and the prevalence of rape myths (Burt, 1980; Gilmartin-Zena, 1988; Larsen & Long, 1988). Findings from Gilmartin-Zena (1988) suggest that most college students recognize obvious rape myths, but are uncertain about "subtle" ones. Other research indicates that males are more likely than females to perceive that forced intercourse was consensual (Abbey, 1982; Malamuth, Haber, & Feshback, 1980). In this vein, the present study tested the hypothesis that there are gender differences in the perception of rape, when the incident is ambiguous. Competing theories (Abbey's contention that men misinterpret the cues given by women and the Gilligan / Hall suggestion that women are better at detecting cues than men) were also tested to determine which was better at explaining a gender difference. One hundred and five undergraduate psychology subjects watched a series of eight 5 minute film clips that ranged from mutually consenting sexuality to rape. After each presentation, they assessed the material on a number of variables involving the actors‘ pleasure, aggression, responsibility. willingness and whether or not a rape had occurred. Content coding was performed on open-ended responses to determine if women picked up more cues. Also, questions taken from Abbey's (1982) research and content coding for interpretation were used to determine if men were making different interpretations than women. lt was hypothesized that both women and men would accurately identify non-ambiguous consenting sex or rape scenes. In contrast, ambiguous clips were expected to produce gender differences, in which women perceived ambiguous situations more as rapes, while men did not. Five dependent measures produced interactions, although not all in the predicted direction. The question central to the main hypothesis, which asked participants to place each clip on a continuum from mutually consenting to rape, produced an overall gender effect, in which men perceived the situations as more consensual than women did. Neither theory provided strong enough support to explain the gender differences in the perception of rape. These results were discussed in terms of the cultural norms surrounding dating and courtship behaviours.

Convocation Year


Convocation Season