Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology



First Advisor

Allan Berman


The cognitive performance of three groups of college students (N = 251, 135 males, 116 females) who differed in their attitudes toward accepting interpersonal violence were compared as they processed two leveling-sharpening measures used to assess their leveling-sharpening cognitive control. Two leveling-sharpening test stimuli were used, one aggressive and one nonaggressive. The first leveling-sharpening test was neutral in content while the second portrayed an interpersonal (inter-sex) aggressive scene. Subjects were administered the Burt (1980) scale of Acceptance of Interpersonal Violence and classified into three groups of either High Acceptors, Moderate Acceptors, or Rejectors of interpersonal violence. Using Santostefano's (1985, 1986, 1990) experimental paradigm, it was predicted that differences in leveling-sharpening cognitive control performance would result depending on subjects' predisposition toward the acceptance of interpersonal violence and changes in the content of the leveling-sharpening tasks.

Differences were assessed statistically by utilizing a repeated measures ANOVA design. The analyses revealed a significant effect for task showing a decrease in the rate of detecting changes for all groups as they moved from the neutral to the aggressive task. Two simple interaction effects also resulted showing, in turn, significantly different patterns of detecting changes between Levelers and Sharpeners depending on their attitudes toward interpersonal violence, and sex differences regarding the performance of male and female Sharpeners on the interpersonal aggressive task. Compared to their performance with the neutral test stimuli, subjects who were Sharpeners and accepting of interpersonal violence were less efficient at detecting changes when they processed the interpersonal aggressive task than were Levelers. In sharp contrast, subjects, both Levelers and Sharpeners, who were not accepting of interpersonal violence (Rejectors) performed similarly on both the neutral and interpersonal aggressive tasks. Further, findings show that female Sharpeners were significantly less efficient at detecting changes on the aggressive task than their male counterparts. Findings are discussed in terms of the influence of anxiety on cognitive performance and the nature of the aggressive measure, acceptance of interpersonal violence, for males versus females.



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