An investigation of dissociation, attentional focus, affective response, and sexual arousal in women

Marilyn Urban Germano, University of Rhode Island


This study investigated the relationship between dissociation, attentional focus, and sexual arousal in a non-clinical sample of 162 undergraduate women. Participants were randomly assigned to experimental conditions of distraction, instructed focus on somatic changes, and control, providing ratings of their cognitive and affective reactions to a sexually explicit videotape. Later participants were divided into high and low dissociation groups based on their scores on the Dissociative Experience Scale (DES). Additional measures of sexual arousability and anxiety, sexual experience, and childhood traumatic experience were used in exploratory correlational analyses.^ Higher levels of dissociation were significantly associated with negative affective reactions to the erotic stimulus. Although negative affective reactions were associated with significantly lower levels of subjective sexual arousal, mean levels of arousal did not differ between high and low dissociation groups.^ Correlations between lever ratings of arousal, which are continuously recorded during the videotape, and questionnaire ratings of arousal, which summarize reactions immediately after the videotape has concluded, did vary with level of dissociation, such that high dissociators displayed significantly higher correlations between lever and questionnaire ratings than low dissociators. Moreover, for high dissociators, the instructional sets affected correlations between lever and questionnaire ratings, with distraction and sensate focus instructions having a similar negative impact on correlations when compared with the control condition. These findings are discussed, and recommendations for future research are made.^ Exploratory analyses resulted in additional findings of interest. The strongest predictor of subjective arousal was the participants' ratings of their previous arousability to erotica. Factor analysis of the DES supported a three-factor solution, with the absorption factor showing a different pattern of correlation to variables of interest than the other two factors, which measure more pathological experiences. Specifically, absorption/trance experiences were found to vary independently of traumatic childhood experiences. Elevated family conflict and neglect was significantly correlated with greater sexual activity and a wider variety of sexual behaviors. ^

Subject Area

Health Sciences, Mental Health|Women's Studies|Psychology, Clinical

Recommended Citation

Marilyn Urban Germano, "An investigation of dissociation, attentional focus, affective response, and sexual arousal in women" (1996). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI9702094.