What is it about?

This study looked at the extent to which men and women believe engaging in online and digital sexually harassing behaviours would achieve a positive versus a negative outcome. The focus was on male-on-female harassment and sex differences in expected outcomes were examined in relation to various personality traits and attitudes. We found that, while outcome beliefs related to how severe both sexes rate harassment, expecting a positive outcome from these behaviours had a particularly strong effect on men's perceptions of harassment.

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Why is it important?

Currently, sexual harassment interventions have extremely limited success. Sexual harassment and outcome expectancies - positive and/or negative consequences - and sex differences in sexual harassment perceptions are understudied areas addressed in this study. We demonstrated sex differences and revealed how positive and negative expectations differentially influence perceptions of harassment. Understanding the thoughts and attitudes behind these behaviours will help with proactive intervention development, potentially by addressing skewed outcome beliefs and using educational materials that are sex-specific as needed.


Some think evolutionary psychology is dismissive of factors such as culture, I think it's an important underpinning that helps explain the impact of those factors, especially in regard to something as ancestrally poignant as mating behaviour. I hope these findings can contribute to an evidence-based sexual harassment intervention that fits the individual, considers and educates on the impact of both positive and negative beliefs and how our brain might be more inclined to have skewed perceptions of these, and ultimately helps prevent a normal mate acquisition attempt becoming an incident of sexual harassment.

Shonagh Leigh
Swansea University

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: The effects of sex and outcome expectancies on perceptions of sexual harassment, PLoS ONE, December 2021, PLOS,
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0261409.
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