Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy



Date of Defense


Graduate Advisor

Zoe D. Peterson, PhD.


Kristin Carbone-Lopez

Steven Bruce

Matthew Taylor


Factors related to the research context such as inquiry mode, experimenter contact, and setting may affect participants’ comfort with and willingness to admit to engaging in sensitive sexual behaviors or to disclose certain sexual attitudes. Three-hundred-and-thirty-seven undergraduates (77% female, 41% non-White) completed a survey containing measures of sexual behavior, sexual attitudes, sexual victimization, and sexual perpetration history. The level of experimenter contact (high vs. low contact), setting of completion (in lab vs. out of lab), and inquiry mode (pencil-and-paper vs. computer) were manipulated, and participants were randomly assigned to one of eight conditions I hypothesized that low contact, out of lab, computer conditions would be associated with the highest rates of reported sexual behaviors (including higher frequencies, a wider variety of behaviors, and higher rates of reported victimization and perpetration). I also predicted that these same experimental conditions would be associated with more liberal attitudes towards sex and sexuality. Further, I hypothesized that these effects would be moderated by race, such that differences across conditions would be greater for non-White participants than for White participants because non-White participants might fear that reporting socially undesirable sexual behavior will fuel racial stereotypes. For female participants, a general pattern emerged across sexual behavior measures suggesting that mode interacts with race to impact responding: Non-White women tended to report more sexual behaviors on pencil-and-paper surveys than on computers. White women either demonstrated no mode-related differences or reported more sexual behaviors in computer conditions than in paper-and-pencil conditions. One exception was sexual victimization, with White women reporting more victimization on pencil-and-paper measures than on computer. For attitudinal measures, experimenter contact tended to be the most important experimental variable, though effects were again moderated by race. White women endorsed more liberal attitudes towards sex in high contact conditions, and non-White women endorsed more liberal attitudes in low contact conditions. Evaluation of differences for men was hampered by a small sample of male participants. Overall, these results suggest that methodological factors such as experimenter contact and mode have a significant impact on sexual self-report and the direction and magnitude of impact is often moderated by race.

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