Study Finds Disturbing Conclusion About ‘Revenge Porn’ But Experts Are Dubious – DrZhana

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Study Finds Disturbing Conclusion About ‘Revenge Porn’ But Experts Are Dubious

Gizmodo recently reached out to me to comment on a new study that claims that 99% of people approve of revenge porn.

For anyone who doesn’t know, revenge porn is posting intimate photos of other people online without their consent, as retaliation against them for hurting you. This can obviously be very damaging for many people; the publishing of sexy or nude pictures has ruined many people’s careers. Yet, according to this study, virtually all of its 100 respondents (most of whom women), “expressed at least some approval (e.g. did not feel remorse) of revenge porn”. 

As you can read in the Gizmodo article, several scholars, myself included had serious methodological issues with this study and their conclusion. Here, I dig deeper into the science behind this study to figure out what exactly is going on here.

Fortunately for humanity (and unfortunately for the revenge porn posters), this claim is highly misleading of what the study actually found.

First, the authors didn’t actually measure “approval” of revenge porn; approval is about attitudes, something you’d measure by asking people about whether they found revenge porn morally acceptable or something like that. Instead, the authors measured people’s anticipated negative emotional reactions to revenge porn, specifically asked them how much blame, anger, and regret they would feel in response to imaginary revenge porn scenarios. Then they reverse scored people’s ratings and called it approval. Not good.

But this is where it gets really bad. (I apologize for the statistics-heavy paragraph, but understanding how the “approval” scale was constructed is key to understanding what’s so misleading about this). Each of the three emotional reactions to 5 separate imaginary scenarios of revenge porn was measured on a 5-point scale of 1-Not at all to 5-Very much. These were then summed together in a scale ranging from 15 to 75, with 75 meaning the person said they would feel “very regretful”, AND “very guilty”, AND “very angry” in all 5 scenarios, and 15 meaning they wouldn’t feel any of these emotions “at all” in all 5 scenarios. So, the authors claim that “99% of participants expressed at least some approval of the revenge porn being committed in the scenarios” was based on the number of participants who scored something lower than 75 on this scale. But that’s just not true! What is true is that 99% of participants felt something other than extreme anger AND blame AND regret to ALL 5 imaginary revenge porn scenarios.

And this actually tells us VERY LITTLE about how the sample as a whole felt about this issue. Because while yes, only 1 person may have felt the extreme level of all three negative emotions in all five scenarios, it’s highly possible (and I’d venture to guess, highly probable) that most people’s overall reactions were still pretty negative, like a 4 or a 5 on the three emotions across the 5 scenarios. In other words, the average level of distress may still have been pretty high, like a 4.5 on that 5-point scale, but you’d never know that from the way the data were presented by the participants. And the kind of information that we’d need to make any real sense of where the sample lies on this scale — the means and the standard deviations for this scale — are notably absent from the paper.

Revenge porn is a fascinating topic with very little research in terms of motivations, outcomes, and people’s perceptions of it. I really hope that we’ll see more studies of this topic (and many others!) with better methods in the future.

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