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A large sample of 14,306 men and women was used to examine the relationship between social power and sexual arousal to consensual sadomasochism. Results showed that power increases the arousal to sadomasochism, after controlling for age and dominance. Furthermore, the effect of power on arousal by sadistic thoughts is stronger among women than among men, while the effect of power on arousal by masochistic thoughts is stronger among men than women. These findings refute common beliefs, reinforced through novels such as Fifty Shades of Grey, that the desire for sadomasochism reflects a desire to play out power dynamics in the bedroom. Instead, the effect of power is driven through a process of disinhibition that leads people to disregard sexual norms in general and disregard sexual norms associated with their gender in particular. These results add to an emerging literature that social power changes traditional gender patterns in sex.
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Power and Sadomasochism: Understanding
the Antecedents of a Knotty Relationship
Joris Lammers
and Roland Imhoff
A large sample of 14,306 men and women was used to examine the relationship between social power and sexual arousal to
consensual sadomasochism. Results showed that power increases the arousal to sadomasochism, after controlling for age and
dominance. Furthermore, the effect of power on arousal by sadistic thoughts is stronger among women than among men, while
the effect of power on arousal by masochistic thoughts is stronger among men than women. These findings refute common
beliefs, reinforced through novels such as Fifty Shades of Grey, that the desire for sadomasochism reflects a desire to play out
power dynamics in the bedroom. Instead, the effect of power is driven through a process of disinhibition that leads people to
disregard sexual norms in general and disregard sexual norms associated with their gender in particular. These results add to an
emerging literature that social power changes traditional gender patterns in sex.
power, sex, sadomasochism, disinhibition
With over 100 million copies sold, the popularity of the novel
Fifty Shades of Grey (James, 2011) shows people’s fascination
with sadomasochism and their desire to better understand why
some people want t o mix sex with domination and pain.
Although only a few have ever engaged in sadomasochistic sex,
many people experience arousal to such thoughts (Weinberg &
Kamel, 1983). Despite this, there is little research into the ante-
cedents of sadomasochistic thoughts. Given the central role of
power in sadomasochism, one particularly interesting question
is how social power steers people’s attraction to sadomasochism.
One idea on this relation—and perhaps one reason why
sadomasochism is often strongly criticized—is that sadomaso-
chism is a form of playing out power differences in sex, where
the powerful adopt the controlling sadistic role and exert con-
trol over the powerless who adopt a more passive role. This
idea may ultimately draw on Freudian notions that sadism is
an aberration of the aggressive instinct to exert power over oth-
ers, while masochism stems from low-power motives to pro-
vide pleasure to others and avoid guilt (Deutsch, 1930; Freud,
1905/1953). James (2011) recent novel, for example, intuitively
follows this playing out hypothesis in its portrayal of a powerful
millionaire who takes the sadistic role and an insecure student
who adopts the masochistic role. Yet despite this having reached
the status of cultural truism, no research has tested the truth of
this link between power and sadomasochism.
Power and Disinhibition
Based on the recent social psychological research on power, we
dispute this playing out hypothesis and present an alternative,
disinhibition hypothesis. This hypothesis is based on a wealth
of findings, showing that power leads to a state of behavioral
disinhibition, meaning that the powerful are more likely to act
on their impulses (Galinsky, Gruenfeld, & Magee, 2003; Kelt-
ner, Gruenfeld, & Anders on, 2003; Lammers, Galinsky, Gor-
dijn, & Otten, 2008; Smith & Bargh, 2008; Whitson,
Liljenquist, Galinsky, Magee, Gruenfeld, & Cadena, 2013).
Such a state of disinhibition can help people ignore or over-
come situational pressures and can make them more likely to
act in line with their goals and desires (Galinsk y et al., 200 3;
Galinsky, Magee, Gruenfeld, Whitson, & Liljenquist, 2008;
Guinote, 2007a; Hirsh, Galinsky, & Zhong, 2011; Slabu & Gui-
note, 2010).
This power-induced disinhibition can cause positive, virtu-
ous effects. For example, if people with a strong moral identity
feel powerful, then they are more likely to overcome inertia and
act on their inclination to help others (DeCelles, DeRue, Mar-
golis, & Ceranic, 2012). And if people are strongly committed
to a personal relationship, power can increase their tendency to
forgive (Karremans & Smith, 2010). But due to its general dis-
inhibiting effect, feelings of power can also help people to dis-
regard and violate situational norms and thus cause negative,
Department of Psychology, University of Cologne, Ko
ln, Germany
Corresponding Author:
Joris Lammers, Department of Psychology, University of Cologne, Sozialpsy-
chologie I, Richard-Strauss-Str. 2, 50931 Ko
ln, Germany.
Social Psychological and
Personality Science
ª The Author(s) 2015
Reprints and permission:
DOI: 10.1177/1948550615604452
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corruptive effects. For example, power has been shown to
cause people t o steal, cheat, or make traffic violations (Lam-
mers, Stapel, & Galinsky, 2010; Trautmann, Van de Kuilen,
& Zeckhauser, 2013; Yap, Wazlawek, Lucas, Cuddy, & Car-
ney, 2013; for an overview, see Lammers, Galinsky, Dubois,
& Rucker, 2015). This link between power and disinhibited
counternormative behavior may be even further catalyzed by
the fact that power increases feelings of social distance, making
the powerful even m ore lik ely to igno re an d disre gard soc ial
norms (Lammers, Galinsky, Gordijn, & Otten, 2012; Magee
& Smith, 2013).
Sadomasochism has clear counternormative ele ments, as it
mixes sex and love with violence and domination. Much of the
literature treats people who engage in sadomasochism as in
need of therapy or even as a potential danger to society (e.g.,
Langevin, 2003). Also, people are less willing to admit having
any sadomasochistic fantasies, unless they are in a disinhibited
and aroused state, in which case they more easily admit being
excited by the thought of spanking or being spanked in a sexual
context (Ariely & Loewenstein, 2006; Imhoff & Schmidt,
2014). Given the strong link between power and disinhibition,
which leads people to engage in counternormative behavior,
we predict that social power also increases arousal to
Importantly, we do not aim to suggest that everyone who
experience power will experience arousal to sadomasochism.
For many—if not most—people, the idea o f mixing sex with
domination and pain is simply unappealing. For them, power
will not have any effect on sadomasochism. But for those peo-
ple who for some reason feel attracted to sadomasochism,
experiencing a sense of power adds strength to their dormant
impulses. Therefore, we expect that overall power will increase
arousal to sadomasochism.
Crucially, however, we note that the playing out hypothesis
and the disinhibition hypothesis make opposite predict ions on
the nature of that relationship. Specifically, the playing out
hypothesis expects power to increase arousal to sadism but to
reduce arousal to masochism. After all, sadism is the h igh-
power, controlling role and masochism the low-power, submis-
sive role in sadomasochi sm. If sadomasoch ism is driven by a
tendency to play out real-life power differences in the bedroom,
then the powerful should feel less aroused at exercising the
low-power masochistic role, because it is inconsistent wit h
their real-life position of power. In contrast, the disinhibition
hypothesis predicts power to increase arousal to both. After all,
both sadism and masochism constitute a form of sexual disin-
hibition (Ariely & Loewenstein, 2006; Imhoff & Schmidt,
2014). If power has general disinhibiting effects, it should
increase both.
Gender and Double Disinhibition
Second, although sadomasochism is seen as counternormative
overall, we propose that sadism and masochism may be seen as
distinctly counternormative for men and women. Specifically,
gender norms associate men with dominant and active and
women with submissive and passive behaviors (Eagly, 1987;
Koenig & Eagly, 2014). Transgression of such gender norms
typically leads to negative reactions. For example, women may
experience backlash if they show agentic, leadership behavior
(Rudman & Glick, 2001), while men may experience backlash
for being modest (Moss-Racusin, Phelan, & Rudman, 2010).
These societal gender norms also dictate behavior within
sadomasochism. This is demo nstrated by a strong descriptive
norm that men are more likely to report ex periencing arousal
to sadistic though ts, while women are more likely to report
experiencing arousal to masochistic thoughts (Hsu, Kling,
Kessler, Knapke, Diefenbach, & Elias, 1994; Person, Terest-
man, Myers, Goldberg, & Salvadori, 1989). Therefore,
although sadomasochism may be counternormative overall,
female sadism and male masochism may be even more coun-
ternormative than opposite combinations. Not only do they
break the norm against mixing sex and violence, but they also
violate gender norms agai nst fema le dominance and male
Again, this prediction differs from what would be predicted
based on the idea that sadomasochism is a form of playing out
power differences. One reason why sadomasochism is often
strongly criticized from a feminist perspective is that sadoma-
sochism is a form of playing out genderized power dynamics in
sex, by giving men the dominant, sadistic role and women the
submissive, masochistic role (Dworkin, 2006; Linden, Pagano,
Russell, & Star, 1982). James’ (2011) recent novel also follows
this gender pattern. Yet if the alternative disinhibition hypoth-
esis is correct, then individual differences in power should
attenuate gender differences, in particular by drawing powerful
men more strongly to masochism comp ared to powerful
women’s draw to masochism.
Power and Dispositions
Third and finally, the disinhibition hypothesis predicts that
chronic dispositional differences may interact with power and
further strengthen its counternormative effect (Chen, Lee-
Chai, & Bargh, 2001; Galinsky et al., 2008 ; Guinote, 2007b;
Guinote, Weick, & Cai, 2012; Hirsh et al., 2011). Specifically,
given the strong link between sadomasochism and dominance
(Ernulf & Innala, 1995; Moser, 1988), dispositional differences
in dominance motivation may affect these results, in the sense
that the effects of power (and possibly the power–gender inter-
action) on sadomasochism may be particularly strong for those
high in dispositional dominance motivation. The playing out
hypothesis does not make any predictions on the effect of
To test these hypotheses against each other, we used a large-
scale Internet-based sample composed of people of all ages,
in which we measure dominance motivation, power, and arou-
sal by sadistic and masochistic thoughts. We use a correlational
design because the topic of our research precludes an
2 Social Psychological and Personality Science
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experimental or observational design. We report how we deter-
mined sample size, all data exclusions, and all me asure s (see
also the Supplementary online materials [SOM] at http://
Participants and Design
Readers of Quest and Glamour, a popular science and a general
lifes tyle magazine in the Net herlands, were asked to volunta-
rily complete a short online questionnaire, by means of an ad
in a newsletter. The study was conducted at the website of
Quest, on a site that regularly features small tests for voluntary
participation (at As sample size, we a
priori used all respondents who completed the items within a
3-week time span, excluding those participant s with incom-
plete responses. In total, 19,408 respondents started the survey
and 14,508 respondents (74.8%) finished all items. In addition,
we dropped the 202 res ponde nts who indicated an age lo wer
than 16.
We chose 16 as the cutoff point, as this is the age
of consent in the Netherlands(WetboekvanStrafrecht,
2014). This left 14,306 participants. The sample contained
9,016 (63.0 %) women and 5,290 (37.0%) men. Participants
ranged in age from 16 to 105 years. The mean age was 33.2
years (SD ¼ 13.2 years) and the median age was 28.5 years
(25th percentile: 22.9 years and 75th perce ntile: 42.1 years).
Of all respondents, 17.2% had obta ined a master’s, 37.0 % a
bachelor’s, 26.1% polytechnic, 18.8% secondary, and 0.9% pri-
mary education. A comparison with the general population of
the Netherlands (Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek, 2015)
showed that our sample contained more young people, in par-
ticular people in their 20s, and less middle aged and older peo-
general population. We did not measure ethnicity or socioeco-
nomic status.
Power and dominance. Following earlier work, we looked at
power as respondents’ position in the formal hierarchy of their
primary job (Lammers, Stapel, et al., 2010; Lammers, Stoker,
& Stapel, 2010b; Lammers, Stok er, Jordan, Pollmann, & Sta-
pel, 2011). Participants indicated whether they were unem-
ployed an d/or studying (n ¼ 4,696, 32.8%, coded as 1),
employed in a nonmanagement function (n ¼ 3,502, 24.5%,
coded as 2), in lower level management (n ¼ 1,574, 11.0%, coded
as 3), in middle-level management (n ¼ 3,156, 22.1%, coded
as 4), or in top-level management (n ¼ 1,378, 9.6%, coded as
5). Although this formal hierarchy scale is strictly defined an
ordinal measure, earlier work has shown that it can be safely
analyzed as a continuous scale, given that it strongly corre-
lates with the subjective feelings of power and control over
others (Lammers, Stoker, et al., 2010). The unemployed and
students were categorized as the group with the least power,
given that objectively they have little to no power, defined as
either control over resources or the ability to give orders to
other people, and given that they instead depend strongly
on others. Furthermore, both students and unemployed have
been shown to experience many of the psychological charac-
teristics of powerlessness, such as anxiety, lower self-esteem,
and lower sense o f con trol (Andrews & Wilding, 2004;
Bayram & Bilgel, 2008; Dekker & Schaufeli, 1995; Donovan
& Oddy, 1982). To measure the desire to be in a position of
dominance, participants completed the Dominance subscale
of the Achievement Motivation Scale, on 5-point scales
(Cassidy & Lynn, 1989; a ¼ .82).
Sexual interest. We administered the sadism and masochism fan-
tasy subscales of the Violent Sexual Interest Questionnaire
(VSIQ; Larue et al., 2014). Five items measured sexual arousal
to consensual sadism (example item, ‘It sexually arouses me to
fantasize about torturing a consenting person’’; a ¼ .87) and 5
to consensual masochism (example, ‘It sexually arouses me to
fantasize about being tortured by a person on my own
demand’’; a ¼ .87). All items were completed on 5-point
scales. We left out the nonconsensual sadism VSIQ items (sex-
ual arousal about inflicting pain against a person ’s will). We
also measured se xual arous al to general eroticism (5 items;
a ¼ .78) and two other measures of disinhibition. These were
also completed on 5-point scales. Given that they are not cen-
tral to our predictions, we discuss these in the SOM.
Data Analytic Strategy
We first standardized all independent variables. Next, we sep-
arately analyzed arousal by sadisti c and masochistic thoughts
using linear regression analysis. In each case, we first analyzed
for the whole sample linear effects of power, dominance, gen-
der, and their interactions, controlling for age.
Next, we inter-
preted interactions with gender by running separate linear
regression analyses for both genders. In text, we only discuss
effects that b ear on our hypotheses (i.e., the main effec ts of
gender and power an d any interaction with power). All other
effects are listed in Tables 1 and 2.
Overall, men were more strongly aroused by sadistic thoughts
(M ¼ 2.38, SD ¼ 1.06 ) than women were (M ¼ 1.93 , SD ¼
0.80), t(14,304) ¼ 28.78, p < .0001, d ¼ .48, 95% confidence
interval [CI] ¼ [0.42, 0.48]. A linear regression analysis of the
effect of power, dominance, gender, and their interactions, con-
trolling for age, on arous al to sadistic thoughts (Table 1, first
column) showed that social power was positively related to
arousal by sadistic thoughts, B ¼ .026, SE ¼ 0.010, 95%
CI ¼ [0.006, 0.045], t(14,297) ¼ 2.56, p ¼ .011. Crucially, and
consistent with the disinhibition hypothesis, this effect was
moderatedbygender,B ¼.039, SE ¼ 0.016, 95% CI ¼
[0.071, 0.007], t(14,297) ¼2.42, p ¼ .016. We also found
a three-way interaction between power, dominance motivation,
and gender, B ¼ .070, SE ¼ 0.016, 95% CI ¼ [0.039, 0 .102],
t(14,297) ¼ 4.34, p < .0001.
Lammers and Imhoff 3
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To decompose these gender interaction effects on sadistic
fantasies, we ran separate linear regression analyses for women
(Table 1, second column) and men (third column). Power
increased arousal to sadistic thoughts among women, B ¼
.032, SE ¼ 0.009, 95% CI ¼ [0.014, 0.050], t(9,011) ¼ 3.49,
p ¼ .0005 but not among men, B ¼.0 24, SE ¼ 0.016, 95%
CI ¼ [0.055, 0.008], t(5,285) ¼1.45, p ¼ .146. This is con-
sistent with the disinhibitio n hypothesis, given that male-
associated sadism is more counternormative for women than
for men.
Among men, we found an interaction between power and
dominance motivation, B ¼ .067, SE ¼ 0.015 , 95 % CI ¼
[0.039, 0.096], t(5,285) ¼ 4.60, p < .0001, showing that power
increased arousal by sadism among men high in dominance
motivation (þ1 SD), B
¼ .039, SE ¼ 0.014, t (5,285) ¼
2.82, p ¼ .005, but decreased arousal among men low in dom-
inance motivation (1SD),B
¼.057, SE ¼ 0.017,
t(5,285) ¼3.42 p ¼ .0006. This finding, that power increases
the effects of disposition on sexual arousal, also fits the disin-
hibition hypothesis.
Overall, women were more strongly aroused by masochistic
thoughts (M ¼ 2.22, SD ¼ 1.00) than men were ( M ¼ 2.01,
SD ¼ 1.01), t(14,304) ¼ 12.16, p < .0001, d ¼ .21, 95% CI
¼ [0.17, 0.24]. A linear regression analysis of the effect of
power, dominance, gender, and their interactions, controlling
for age, on arousal to sadistic thoughts (Table 2, first column),
showed a positive effect of power on arousal by m asochistic
fantasies, B ¼ .025, SE ¼ 0.011, 95% CI ¼ [0.003, 0.047],
t(14,297) ¼ 2.22, p ¼ .027. In other words, consistent with the
disinhibition hypothesis power increases both forms of sado-
masochism—not just sadism but also masochism. Furthermore,
this effect was moderated by gender, B ¼ .049, SE ¼ 0.018,
95% CI ¼ [0.013, 0.085], t(14,297) ¼ 2.67, p ¼ .008.
Decomposing these gender interaction effects by running
separate linear regression analyses for women and men (Table
2, second and third column, respectively), w e found among
women a small positive effect of power on ar ousal by ma so-
chistic thoughts, B ¼ .033, SE ¼ 0 .011, 95% CI ¼ [0.011,
0.056], t(9,011) ¼ 2.90, p ¼ .004. Impor tantly, however, that
same effect of p ower on arousal by masochistic thoughts was
81.8% stronger among men, B ¼ .061, SE ¼ 0.016, 9 5% CI
[0.030, 0.091], t(5,285) ¼ 3.85, p ¼ .0001. In other words,
consistent with the disinhibition hypothesis, power particularly
strongly increases arousal to female-associated masochism
among men, while this effect is weaker among women.
In literature, sadomasochism is portrayed as a form of playing
out power dynamics . But how veridical is this cultura l depic-
tion? Our results show it is at least partially wrong. Social
power disinhibits and leads people to ignore social norms.
Therefore, it increases arousal to any form of sadomasochistic
thought, including masochism. Furthermore, power i ncreases
arousal to sadism particularly strongly among women and
increases arousal to masochism particularly strongly among
men—that is, power particularly strongly increases arousal to
the form of sadomasochism that is normally res erved for the
opposite gender. Both findings strongly fit with the idea that
the effects of power on sadomasochism are due to general pro-
cesses of disinhibition associated with power.
Our results contribute to an emerging literature showing that
social power can lead people to ignore social norms (for an
overview, see Lammers et al., 2015). Our res ults suggest that
this is the case for even th e mos t intimate aspects o f people’s
cognition, such as th eir arousal to spe cific sexual thoughts.
Social power, even if measured in a completely different
domain as people’s relative position in their hierarchy at work,
is associated with increased arousal to sexual cues, including
those associated with sadom asochism. In doing so, power has
the potential to attenuate strong genderized sexual norms and
well-entrenched gender differences (see also Kunstman &
Maner, 2011; Lammers et al., 2011).
Our findings are striking, given that sadomasochism is some-
times criticized from a radical feminist perspective as a conti-
nuation of patriarchal power relations. S adomasochism that
places men in the sadistic and women in the masochistic role
is seen as an expression of hatred against women (Dworkin,
2006; Linden et al., 1982). On the one hand, given that in our
sample men were on average more aroused by sadism and less
aroused by masochism than women, our results partially fit with
Table 1. Regression Model on Arousal to Sadistic Thoughts.
Combined Women Men
Age .084*** .105*** .060***
Dominance .139*** .135*** .249***
Gender (0 ¼ female,1¼ male) .417***
Power .026* .032*** .024
Dominance Gender .105***
Power Gender .039*
Dominance Power .003 .003 .067***
Dominance Gender Power .070***
.109 .047 .069
Values indicate Bs and asterisks indicate associated ps.
Table 2. Regression Model on Arousal to Masochistic Thoughts.
Combined Women Men
Age .173*** .201*** .142***
Dominance .016 .011 .095***
Gender (0 ¼ female,1¼ male) .139***
Power .025* .033** .061***
Dominance Gender .118***
Power Gender .049**
Dominance Power .010 .010 .024
Dominance Gender Power .014
.037 .030 .025
Values indicate Bs and asterisks indicate associated ps.
4 Social Psychological and Personality Science
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those ideas. Yet on the other hand, our finding that among men
power increases arousal mainly to masochism and not to sadism,
and our finding that power also increases arousal to sadomaso-
chism among women suggest that the relation between power
and sadomasochism is not solely one of oppression but also one
of liberation—freeing people from genderized sexual norms. All
in all, our results paint a more nuanced picture of the relation
between power, dominance, and sadomasochism.
Furthermore, our results are novel by showing that they also
liberate men from genderized sexual norms. Existing research
has focused only on flirting and infidelity—forms of sexual
behavior where gender norms are stricter for women than for
men (Kunstman & Maner, 2011; Lammers et al., 2011; Lam-
mers & Maner, 2015). In that research, power can liberate
women from sexual norms. The current research is the first
to show that power can also liberate men from restraining sex-
ual norms, by making them particularly more likely to s how
masochism—a behavior that is stereotypically more strongly
associated with women.
To be fair, we do note that the effects of power in our sample
were small, compared to the effects of gender, age, or domi-
nance motivation. Overall, we found that men were more
aroused by sadism and women more by masochism. This is
consistent with some findings in literature (Hsu et al., 1994;
Larue et al., 2 014; Person et al., 1989) and inconsistent with
other findings (Dawson, Bannerman, & Lalumiere, 2014; Don-
nelly & Fraser, 1998). The large sample size of our study, com-
pared to those of studies in existing literature, offers relatively
robust support for the idea that men are more attracted to sad-
ism and women more to masochism. This may reflect chronic
powe r differences between men and women. Nonetheless, by
showing that differences in power do not further strengthen but
rather attenuate this gender difference, these results paint a
more subtle and nuanced picture of the effect of power in
One interesting observation was that we found that among
women, power increased arousal to both sadism and maso-
chism to an equal extent, whereas for men, power only
increased arousal for sadism but not masochism. Furthermore,
among men, differences in dominance motivation had a stron-
ger positive effect on arousal to sadism and a stronger negative
effect on arousal to masochism than among women. In other
words, arousal to sadomasochism may depend more strongly
on power and less strongly on personality for women than for
men. This observation fits Baumeister’s (2000) erotic plasticity
hypothesis, which holds that the female sex drive responds
more strongly to sociocultural variables, while the male sex
drive responds more strongly to dispositional variables.
In recent discussions around the depathologization of con-
sensual sadomasochism, it has been stressed that many practi-
cing individuals are not hampered by the practice in their career
or pursuit of other life goals (Richters, De Visser, Rissel, Gru-
lich, & Smith, 2008). Our findings fit with that idea. Although
our research does not directly test any positive or negative
effect of sadomasochism on people’s performance and well-
being, either at work or elsewhere, our finding that people are
most likely to engage in consensual sadomasochism at the
highest levels of management suggests that sadomasochism
does not necessarily hinder a successful career.
One limitation of our findings is the correlational nature of the
data, which prevents strong claims about causality. We do note
that existing experimental evidence on power and disinhibition
in sexual behavior (although not related to sadomasochism)
points in similar directions (e.g., Kunstman & Maner, 2011).
Another limitation of our findings is that our sample, although
very large, contained more women, was younger, and was bet-
ter educated than the general population of the Netherlands.
Future research may want to extend our findings using a sample
that is representative on these characteristics.
A further limitation to our findings is the fact that we relied
exclusively on self-reports. Given the link between power and
disinhibition on which our conceptual model is based, an alter-
native explanation for our results could therefore be that power
merely leads to a more disinhibited and therefore freer and less
socially desi rable expression of feel ings (e.g., Galinsky et al.,
2008). On the other hand, the use of an Internet-based method
of assessment reduces social desirability concerns overall,
which lessens this concern at least partially (Whisman & Sny-
der, 2007). Furthermore, we note that the large sample and the
use of well-validated measures speak to the strength of our
findings. Finally, we note that, given the topic of our research
obtaining better data by using experimental designs or observa-
tional data is simply not possible. As Maslow (1942) already
wrote, in circumstances such as these, where it is not possible
to obtain better data, one knows that the data are shaky, and the
reader is warned of this, using only self-report data is nonethe-
less defensible.
Power, measured as one’s position in the hierarchy at work,
affects people’s arousal to sadomasochistic thoughts. After
controlling for gender, age, and dominance motivation, power
is associated with increased arousal to both sadistic and maso-
chistic thoughts. Yet the stren gth of these relations differs
between men an d women. By increasing disinhibition, power
leads people to ignore genderized sex norms, making powerful
women more aroused by male-associated sadism and powerful
men more aroused by female-associated masochism. These
results add to an emerging literature that social power is asso-
ciated with an increased disregard for sexual norms a nd thus
changes traditional gender patterns in sex.
Author Contributions
Joris Lammers and Roland Imho ff developed the study concept and
design. Data collection was performedbyJ.Lammers.J.Lammers
and R. Imhoff performed the data analysis and interpretation. J. Lam-
mers drafted the manuscript and R. Imhoff provided critical revisions.
Lammers and Imhoff 5
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All authors approved the final version of the manuscript for
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to
the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, author-
ship, and/or publication of this article.
1. If we instead include these 202 respondents, then this does not lead
to any meaningfully different results.
2. A multivariate multip le regression, with arousal to sadism versus
arousal to masochism as two dependent variables, showed a signif-
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F(1, 14,297) ¼ 28.06, p < .0001, Z
¼ .002, as wel l as a four-
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¼ .001.
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Author Biographies
Joris Lammers received his PhD in 2008 from the University of Gro-
ningen, the Netherlands and is working at the Social Cognition Center
Cologne, Germany. His research interests include po wer, morality,
gender differences, political psychology, and German shepherds.
Roland Imhoff received his PhD in 2010 from the Unive rsity of
Bonn, Germany and is working at the Social Cognition Center
Cologne, Germany. His research interests include implicit measures,
reverse correlations, sexual behavior, and antisemitism.
Lammers and Imhoff 7
at Univ und Stadtbibliothek Koln on September 3, 2015spp.sagepub.comDownloaded from
... This freedom from others that the powerful experience has effects similar to anonymity (Hirsh et al., 2011). It leads the uncontrolled powerful to behave disinhibited (Keltner et al., 2003) and to ignore social norms (Lammers & Imhoff, 2016). It seems likely that the image of autonomous individuals, who can fulfill their own needs and desires without any external control, evokes expectations of immorality. ...
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“The powerful are immoral”! Across four preregistered studies (total N = 2,744), we explored the role of perceived autonomy (control over own resources) and perceived influence (control over others’ resources) for this belief. In Study 1, perceived autonomy and influence mediated the effect of power on expected immorality. Likewise, directly manipulating perceived autonomy and influence led to increased expected immorality, increased perceived intentionality of a transgression, and consequently to harsher punishment recommendations (Studies 3 and 4). Interestingly, Study 2 revealed an interaction between autonomy and influence, which we however could not replicate in Study 4. Overall, our findings suggest that both autonomy and influence are associated with immorality and thus likely drive the belief that the powerful are immoral.
... The present ASF measure distinguished between fantasies about clearly non-consensual sexual acts and acts that may or may not be consensually put into action. It, however, did not capture whether the fantasized acts were consensually or non-consensually put into action from the receiving party's perspective for all single items 76,77 and whether either the use of force and/or a consensual infliction of harm was sexually arousing from the inflictor's perspective. Similarly, the outcome measure reflected sexually sadistic behavior and presumably non-consensual sexually sadistic behavior, but it remains unclear whether the reported acts were consensually or non-consensually put into action. ...
Background: Aggression-related sexual fantasies (ASF) are considered an important risk factor for sexual aggression, but empirical knowledge is limited, in part because previous research has been based on predominantly male, North-American college samples, and limited numbers of questions. Aim: The present study aimed to foster the knowledge about the frequency and correlates of ASF, while including a large sample of women and a broad range of ASF. Method: A convenience sample of N = 664 participants from Germany including 508 (77%) women and 156 (23%) men with a median age of 25 (21-27) years answered an online questionnaire. Participants were mainly recruited via social networks (online and in person) and were mainly students. We examined the frequencies of (aggression-related) sexual fantasies and their expected factor structure (factors reflecting affective, experimental, masochistic, and aggression-related contents) via exploratory factor analysis. We investigated potential correlates (eg, psychopathic traits, attitudes towards sexual fantasies) as predictors of ASF using multiple regression analyses. Finally, we examined whether ASF would positively predict sexual aggression beyond other pertinent risk factors using multiple regression analysis. Outcomes: The participants rated the frequency of a broad set of 56 aggression-related and other sexual fantasies, attitudes towards sexual fantasies, the Big Five (ie, broad personality dimensions including neuroticism and extraversion), sexual aggression, and other risk factors for sexual aggression. Results: All participants reported non-aggression-related sexual fantasies and 77% reported at least one ASF in their lives. Being male, frequent sexual fantasies, psychopathic traits, and negative attitudes towards sexual fantasies predicted more frequent ASF. ASF were the strongest predictor of sexual aggression beyond other risk factors, including general aggression, psychopathic traits, rape myth acceptance, and violent pornography consumption. Clinical translation: ASF may be an important risk factor for sexual aggression and should be more strongly considered in prevention and intervention efforts. Strengths and limitations: The strengths of the present study include using a large item pool and a large sample with a large proportion of women in order to examine ASF as a predictor of sexual aggression beyond important control variables. Its weaknesses include the reliance on cross-sectional data, that preclude causal inferences, and not continuously distinguishing between consensual and non-consensual acts. Conclusion: ASF are a frequent phenomenon even in in the general population and among women and show strong associations with sexual aggression. Thus, they require more attention by research on sexual aggression and its prevention. Bondü R, Birke JB, Aggression-Related Sexual Fantasies: Prevalence Rates, Sex Differences, and Links With Personality, Attitudes, and Behavior. J Sex Med 2021;XX:XXX-XXX.
... Researchers considered this power-sex link to apply uniquely to men, consistent with both empirical (Bargh et al., 1995;Gruenfeld et al., 2008) and anecdotal (McDonald, 2019, for review) evidence. Our findings contribute to an emerging body of research that suggests the power-sex link is less gender dependent than previously understood (Lammers & Imhoff, 2016;Lammers & Stoker, 2019;. The finding that power can minimize differences in sexual behavior suggests that power, as opposed to gender, might better explain divergent behavior (Eagly & Wood, 1999;Lammers & Stoker, 2019). ...
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Past quantitative research has used a narrative-writing method of conceptual priming to examine the perceptual and behavioral effects of feeling powerful or powerless. The current qualitative study examined the content of those narratives. Guided by perspectives on power from communication studies and psychology, this study utilized the constant comparative method to analyze young people’s experiences with felt power. Participants responded to a brief writing prompt to recall and describe a situation in which they felt powerful (i.e., they controlled others) or powerless (i.e., others controlled them) according to random assignment. Although participants could write about any social situation of their choosing within the confines of power or powerlessness, many participants (n = 121) wrote about romantic or sexual relationships. Among these participants, themes of control, regret, and self-protection emerged in powerful narratives, whereas themes of guilt, fear of not being believed, and growth emerged in powerless narratives. Findings suggested that power and sexuality interact in a variety of social contexts, some of which extant theories of power do not predict. Future research should attempt to account for these relationships to build more comprehensive theories of power related specifically to sexual interactions.
... Practitioners who give away their power in m/s activities fall into two main subgroups: those who are powerful in everyday life (Brame et al., 1993;Hawley & Hensley, 2009;Stoller, 1991), especially professionally (Lammers & Imhoff, 2016), and those who are simply more sexually aroused by submission. Those in the first subgroup are classically labeled "balancers" (Scott, 1985), as their main goal is to stop being responsible, to let go, in an erotic environment. ...
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A growing number of studies have demonstrated that BDSM (Bondage/Discipline-Domination/Submission-Sadism/Masochism) practices are not signs of mental illness. However, the reasons for engaging in such behaviors are not well understood, especially for sexual masochism or submission (m/s). A thorough review of the literature was conducted, as well as a search in Internet forums and an online survey to obtain testimonies that provide information on the origins of interest in m/s and the reasons for engaging in it. A qualitative content analysis was performed on narratives from 227 m/s practitioners. Sixteen themes emerged from this analysis, eight related to the origins of interest in m/s and eight to the reasons for engaging in m/s. The origins described were seen as either intrinsic or extrinsic. Reasons to engage in m/s were related to one of three main types of activities: use of interpersonal power; experiencing physical pain; and altering one’s state of mind. These results concord with accounts found in non-academic books and small-scale studies suggesting that m/s interests are often present early in life and usually practiced to reach an altered state of mind associated with sexual arousal. Possible reasons for choosing m/s over more common means of mind alteration are discussed.
... Secondly, sexual aggression is more likely to be perpetrated by males [e.g.,43], although gender differences may be stronger for some forms of sexual aggression (attack) than for others (display). This reasoning is based on studies showing that power can promote sexual assertiveness and an increased desire for sadomasochism in both sexes [44,45]. Those modifications aside, evidence that feelings of incompetence predict men's sexual harassment of female subordinates [46] and that low-powered men resort to sexual aggression when given power [47] are consistent with the model presented here. ...
Full-text available
'Power' and 'aggression' are two constructs that seem like a natural fit. After all, why should people in power not deploy aggression to get their way? Yet, when looking at empirical studies, the relationship between power and aggression is fickle at best. In an effort to integrate the literature, the present narrative review draws on a neuro-biological model of aggression as a framework, which distinguishes between three motivational mechanisms: offence, defence, and marking/display. High (vs. low) power likely facilitates offensive aggression and agonistic marking/display. However, high (vs. low) power often coincides with elevated status, which counters some of the detrimental effects of power. Meanwhile, defensive aggression is relatively under-researched, but may be a more frequent occurrence amongst lower power individuals and groups.
The classification of sexual fantasies and behaviors (here referred to as ‘sexual interests’) has historically been divided into ‘paraphilic’ and ‘normophilic’. However, studies on paraphilic interests are often limited to clinical or forensic samples and normophilic interests are rarely assessed in tandem. Previous research has found mixed results for psychological and other correlates of sexual interests, potentially due to inconsistency in operationalism and measurement of fantasies and behaviors. The aim of the current study was to quantify correlates of sexual interests via the Sexual Fantasies and Behaviors Inventory, containing factors related to general fantasies/behaviors, normophilia, power dynamics, sadomasochism, and courtship paraphilias, using a large ( N = 4280) non-clinical sample. Psychological, developmental, sexual, and demographic correlates were investigated via bivariate correlations, mean difference testing, and multiple regression. Sexual interest domains were largely unrelated to psychopathology and developmental factors. Sociosexuality and more accepting attitudes towards sadomasochism was generally related to more arousal to/engagement in normophilic and paraphilic domains. More autism spectrum disorder traits were related to decreased normophilic interests. Psychopathic traits, sexual sensation seeking, and sexual compulsivity were related to paraphilia dimensions, especially courtship paraphilias and domination/sadism; the former was also associated with negative attitudes about establishing consent. Men, non-monogamous, and non-heterosexual participants indicated greater sexual fantasies and behaviors compared to women (except in the case of submission and masochism), monogamous, and heterosexual participants, respectively.
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This, particular study explores how the Middle Ages gave birth to sadomasochistic erotica; how a burgeoning literary tradition influenced patterns of sexuality and media across medieval Europe. The bulk of the following analysis is centered around Chrétien de Troyes’ Knight of the Cart, and it is aimed at the following questions: Can the origins of sadomasochistic erotica be traced to the courtly romance of Chrétien de Troyes? What were the social ramifications of courtly romance literature? To what extent does Chrétien’s writing depict sadomasochistic relations? How did it affect patterns of sexual behavior in medieval Europe? How did it impact women’s agency? How did the world of sadomasochistic erotica change after the Middle Ages? And likewise, how did its effect on society evolve over time?
Although previous research has identified various beneficial consequences of power sharing, less research has examined antecedents of leaders’ power sharing. To address this gap, across five studies, the present research identifies important social and psychological barriers to leaders’ power sharing. Studies 1a, 1b, and 2 demonstrate that the instability of a leader’s power position undermines his or her power sharing. Study 3 then demonstrates that distrust acts as a key psychological mechanism that can explain this relationship. Then, in Study 4, we distinguish between two dimensions of distrust and examine the moderating role of subordinates’ seniority. We show that subordinates’ seniority moderates the indirect association between power instability and power sharing, via benevolence and ability distrust, such that this indirect relationship is more pronounced for relatively senior (compared to junior) subordinates. Overall, our findings provide valuable insights into when, why, and with whom leaders are more or less willing to share their power.
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BDSM (bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, and sadomasochism) encompasses a diverse set of sexual interests. Research interests in BDSM have been historically underpinned by examining potential mental health issues, unhealthy fixations on specific sexual behaviors, and/or the presence of childhood trauma, as is predicted by psychopathological and psycho-10 analytic models. The objective of this scoping review was to provide an overview of the current landscape of BDSM research, including incidence rates, evidence for psychopathological, psychoanalytical, biological, and social etiological factors, demographics of BDSM practitioners , and the psychological correlates of those with BDSM interests. After the literature search and screening process, 60 articles were included. BDSM related fantasies were found to 15 be common (40-70%) in both males and females, while about 20% reported engaging in BDSM. Results show little support for psychopathologic or psychoanalytic models. In the selected samples studied, BDSM practitioners appear to be white, well educated, young, and do not show higher rates of mental health or relationship problems. Research supports BDSM being used as a broadening of sexual interests and behaviors instead of a fixation on a specific interest. Future 20 empirical research should focus on non-pathological models of BDSM, discrimination of BDSM practitioners, interpersonal relationships, and biological factors.
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Individuals differ in the extent to which they are interested in sexualized violence as displayed in the frequent but not ubiquitous sexual interest in consensual acts of violent sexual roleplay and violent pornographic media in the normal population. The present research sought to develop and validate a multi-method asessment battery to measure individual differences in the preference for sexualized violence (PSV). Three indirect measures (Implicit Association Test, Semantic Misattribution Paradigm, Viewing Time) were combined in an online study with 107 men and 103 women. Participants with and without an affiliation with sadomasochistic sexual interest groups were recruited on corresponding internet platforms. Results revealed that all three indirect measures converged in predicting self-reported sexual interest in non-consensual sexuality. Specifically, for men all indirect measures were related to non-consensual sadistic sexual interest, whereas for women an association with masochistic sexual interest was found. Stimulus artefacts versus genuine gender differences are discussed as potential explanations of this dissociation. An outlook on the usability of the assessment battery in applied settings is delivered.
Little research has been conducted to examine paraphilic sexual interests in nonclinical samples. The little that exists suggests that atypical sexual interests are more common in men than in women, but the reasons for this difference are unknown. In this study, we explored the prevalence of paraphilic interests in a nonclinical sample of men and women. We expected that men would report greater arousal (or less repulsion) toward various paraphilic acts than women. We also examined putative correlates of paraphilias in an attempt to explain the sex difference. In all, 305 men and 710 women completed an online survey assessing sexual experiences, sexual interests, as well as indicators of neurodevelopmental stress, sex drive, mating effort, impulsivity, masculinity/femininity, and socially desirable responding. As expected, significant sex differences were found, with men reporting significantly less repulsion (or more arousal) to the majority of paraphilic acts than women. Using mediation analysis, sex drive was the only correlate to significantly and fully mediate the sex difference in paraphilic interests. In other words, sex drive fully accounted for the sex difference in paraphilic interests. The implications of these findings for understanding the etiology of atypical sexual interests are discussed.
This review synthesizes research on power and morality. Although power is typically viewed as undermining the roots of moral behavior, this paper proposes power can either morally corrupt or morally elevate individuals depending on two critical factors. First, power can trigger behavioral disinhibition. As a consequence, power fosters corruption by disinhibiting people's immoral desires, but can also encourage ethical behavior by amplifying moral impulses. Second, power leads people to focus more on their self, relative to others. Thus, those with power are more likely to engage in self-beneficial behavior, but those who lack power are more prone to engage in other-beneficial unethical behavior. Overall, we offer predictions as to when and why power will yield more or less moral behavior.
Previous research shows that powerful people are more likely than those lacking power to engage in infidelity. One possible explanation holds (a) that power psychologically releases people from the inhibiting effects of social norms and thus increases their appetite for counternormative forms of sexuality. Two alternative explanations are (b) that power increases appetite for any form of sexuality, normative or counternormative, and (c) that power makes men (but not women) seem more attractive to others and thus increases their access to potential mating opportunities. The current research tested these explanations using correlational data from 610 Dutch men and women. Supporting the first explanation, power's relationship with infidelity was statistically mediated by increased attraction to the secrecy associated with infidelity. Inconsistent with the second explanation, power was linked with infidelity but not with casual sex among singles (a more normative form of sexuality). Inconsistent with the third explanation, the link between power and infidelity was observed just as strongly in women as in men. Findings suggest that power may be associated with infidelity because power draws people to the counternormative aspects of infidelity. Implications for theories of power, sexuality, and gender are discussed.
In applying social role theory to account for the content of a wide range of stereotypes, this research tests the proposition that observations of groups' roles determine stereotype content (Eagly & Wood, 2012). In a novel test of how stereotypes can develop from observations, preliminary research collected participants' beliefs about the occupational roles (e.g., lawyer, teacher, fast food worker, chief executive officer, store clerk, manager) in which members of social groups (e.g., Black women, Hispanics, White men, the rich, senior citizens, high school dropouts) are overrepresented relative to their numbers in the general population. These beliefs about groups' typical occupational roles proved to be generally accurate when evaluated in relation to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Then, correlational studies predicted participants' stereotypes of social groups from the attributes ascribed to group members' typical occupational roles (Studies 1a, 1b, and 1c), the behaviors associated with those roles (Study 2), and the occupational interest profile of the roles (Study 3). As predicted by social role theory, beliefs about the attributes of groups' typical roles were strongly related to group stereotypes on both communion and agency/competence. In addition, an experimental study (Study 4) demonstrated that when social groups were described with changes to their typical social roles in the future, their projected stereotypes were more influenced by these future roles than by their current group stereotypes, thus supporting social role theory's predictions about stereotype change. Discussion considers the implications of these findings for stereotype change and the relation of social role theory to other theories of stereotype content. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2014 APA, all rights reserved).