Antonia Abbey, PhD—Sexual Assault Prevention

Member Highlight—April 2015

  • Antonia Abbey, PhD (
    • Professor, Department of Psychology, Wayne State University

What is the focus of your injury research and what are you currently working on?

I am broadly interested in understanding the causes of men’s sexual aggression against women, with an emphasis on how alcohol interacts with personality, attitudes, and past experience to increase some men’s likelihood of being sexually aggressive.  I go back and forth in my research between surveys and experiments.  With surveys, we can ask people about their experiences of sexual aggression and we find high rates reported in college and community samples. In experimental research, we can randomly assign participants to drink alcoholic or nonalcoholic beverages under controlled conditions and determine how intoxication affects their responses to various sexual scenarios.  Each method has complementary strengths and limitations, so when the findings converge, we have much more confidence in them.  Currently, I’m developing a virtual reality simulation that can be used in experimental studies.   

Click here to view Dr. Abbey’s WSU profile.

Why are you most interested in this area of research?

My training is in social psychology and I’ve always been fascinated by the interplay between the individual and the social environment. Most people are not aware of how much their behavior is influenced by subtle environmental and social cues. The current focus on bystander intervention in sexual assault prevention highlights this phenomenon. If enough people speak up when they see sexual harassment (on campus, at parties, at work, etc.), then social norms and behavior are likely to begin to change. 

What are the practical implications for your research?

Several recent studies by my research team and others demonstrate that there are different trajectories of perpetration over time: some men start in adolescence and continue in young adulthood, some start in adolescence and stop, while some don’t start until young adulthood. Determining the risk and protective factors associated with these different patterns has practical implications for developing prevention and treatment programs. We need more of these studies, but they suggest that hostile attitudes toward women, peer norms that encourage sexual objectification of women, alcohol expectancies, heavy drinking, and casual sexual attitudes and behaviors are potential targets for interventions.  

Publication Date: 
Monday, March 30, 2015
Article Type: