Angelone, D.J., Richard Hirschman, Sarah Suniga, Michael Armey, and Aaron Armelie — The Influence of Peer Interactions on Sexually Oriented Joke Telling

Angelone, D.J., Richard Hirschman, Sarah Suniga, Michael Armey, and Aaron Armelie. “The Influence of Peer Interactions on Sexually Oriented Joke Telling.” Sex Roles 52.3-4 (2005): 187-99. Web. 11 Feb. 2015.

The article starts off defining peer sexual harassment behaviors to include sexual joke telling, sexually offensive comments, teasing, sexual looks, sexual innuendoes, obscenities, and unwanted touching or kissing (187). According to numerous self-report surveys, sexual harassment is rampant on university campuses among college students. Few laboratory studies have been conducted with college populations that involve controlled variables, however, so these researchers are focusing on what behaviors lead to peer sexual harassment in a lab setting. They then explain the concept of organizational culture, which refers to symbols and norms within a group that determine behaviors in a certain context. Further, “the particular environmental norms established within the organizational culture influence the organizational members’ interpretations of acceptable and unacceptable sexually oriented behaviors.” The college environment is sexually charged and sexual behaviors are often encouraged through parties, clubs, and organizations. Perpetrators are more likely to engage in sexually harassing behaviors, like sexual joke telling, “because of the ambiguity regarding appropriate behavior in a particular organizational culture” (188), especially that of a college campus. The authors summarize four possible model explanations of sexual harassment behaviors: natural sexual attraction and sex drive; sexual harassment as a result of characteristics created by an organization; inherent status difference between men and women; and sexual harassment as a result of individual personalities (189).

Researchers conducted two laboratory experiments, the first designed to examine the effects of peer interactions on sexually oriented joke telling and whether or not a peer engaging in sexually impositional behavior influenced an observing peer. In it, male college students “are given the opportunity to tell sexually oriented jokes to a female student confederate under the guise of a project on humor” (190). The number of sexually oriented jokes was recorded, as well as the females’ reactions to the jokes. As a result, males who were exposed to male peers who partook in sexually harassing behavior were more likely to tell sexual jokes to females than males who were exposed to peers that did not show sexually harassing behavior (187). In Experiment 2, male participants were asked to watch a video clip of a stand-up comedian and had to rate a list of jokes from most funny to least funny. Male participants were paired up with another control male who was in on the experiment and was either sexist or nonsexist. Then the male participant had to choose to tell certain jokes to female participants, however many they wanted to. The results suggest that male students “who were exposed to a male peer who was seemingly sexist in his interaction with them, subsequently told significantly more sexually oriented jokes to an unknown female peer than did male students exposed to a male peer who was seemingly nonsexist in his interactions with them” (187). These experiments tell us that peer interaction has a big influence on behaviors, especially when there is exposure to sexist tendencies.

This study is exceptional in that it was done in a controlled environment and variables could be manipulated. The findings are useful for my research and confirm that people are undeniably influenced by their peers and will do almost anything to be accepted by the group. There can be multiple ways to explain sexual harassment behaviors and what leads to them and I think these researchers have a firm understanding of them, but they also do realize that there are limitations to this study. Girls might not have been offended by some of the raunchy jokes because they may hear them all the time on a college campus—they are acclimated to the humor of college age students. This shows how rape jokes are normalized in today’s youth culture and how getting rid of the sexual harassment culture will be a group effort that begins with one person positively influencing another. Participants may have felt pressured to respond in a way that they thought the researchers would want them to, thus skewing results. Personality also needs to be taken into account and spontaneous actions that occur in real life may distort results as well. Exposure to sexually harassing behavior can be violent for the participants as well because it influenced their behaviors in a negative way and could possibly have an effect on future actions too. However, this scenario could also happen in real life and the male participants would have reacted to their peers in a similar way. There are always ethical risks involved with experiments and the risk of violent language exposure could limit a person’s potential and influence them to be more violent unintentionally. This is a great baseline study but I would like to move more towards observations on real life situations and overall trends found in peer influence and sexual harassment. I may also want to narrow my focus to college campuses, as they are becoming a hotspot for sexually impositional behavior.

–Lacey Kondos

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