A Behavioral Science Framework for Understanding College Campus Sexual Assault

Ana P. Gantman, Elizabeth Levy Paluck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

We propose a behavioral-science approach to sexual assault on college campuses. In this framework, people commit assault when aspects of the immediate situation trigger certain psychological states. No set of mental processes or situational configurations is a precise predictor of assault. Instead, the interaction between mental processes and situational configurations predicts when sexual assault is more or less likely to occur. We begin with an illustrative story to show how a behavioral-science approach is relevant to sexual assault. Next, we map out a framework that suggests how behavioral theories of situations and mental processes have been or could be used to describe, predict, and develop ideas for the reduction of sexual assault. Relevant situational configurations include geographical configurations, local situational and informational cues, and situation-based power. Theories of mental processes include person perception, social norms, moral reasoning, and goals. Our framework can be used to demonstrate how “good” people can commit assault and how individuals can and will refrain from assault within institutions with a “bad” record. Compared with previous theories of sexual assault, a behavioral-science framework offers unique understanding and generative methods for addressing sexual assault on college campuses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalPerspectives on Psychological Science
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Psychology(all)

Keywords

  • behavioral science
  • gender
  • public policy
  • sexual assault

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