Evoking and reducing mental contamination in female perpetrators of an imagined non-consensual kiss
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Background and Objectives Mental contamination refers to feelings of internal dirtiness that can arise without physical contact with a contaminant. Previous research has demonstrated that contamination-related feelings and subsequent washing behaviours can be evoked by engaging in an imaginal task involving a non-consensual kiss. We sought to test the efficacy of neutralisation behaviours such as washing on experimentally induced mental contamination. Methods The current study used a female undergraduate sample (N = 80) to act as the perpetrator of an imagined non-consensual kiss of a 14-year old boy, to examine whether mental contamination would be evoked, and whether neutralisation would be effective. Results Mental contamination was successfully evoked in using the imaginal task. None of the neutralisation strategies (physical washing, mental washing, atonement) was more effective than a control group in reducing mental contamination. Groups using physical washing completed the experiment with higher levels of negative emotions than the control group, suggesting specific deleterious impact of this neutralisation behaviour. Limitations The use of a non-clinical sample, as well as a uniform mental contamination method (rather than one specifically tailored to each participant) are limitations of the current study. Conclusions Mental contamination is not reduced by a range of neutralisation strategies, and physical washing may have further negative effects such as increased negative emotion.
Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry
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Cognitive Science not elsewhere classified
Psychology not elsewhere classified