Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Psychology



First Advisor

Kathryn Quina


The conceptualization of adult attachment styles corresponding internal working models is a useful frame when considering empathetic responses to victims. This study explored empathy for fictional victims of several types of traumas, including date and stranger rape, as a function of ideal and actual attachment style, self-esteem, and rape victim-perpetrator association. Forty male and 157 female undergraduates at a large state university completed a questionnaire packet consisting of demographic information, a self-esteem scale, an actual and an ideal relationship style measure, and a philosophies of human nature scale utilized to measure related attachment dimensions. They then read 10 trauma scenarios designed by the principal investigator and rated level of empathy toward the victim. For both actual and ideal attachment, participants were categorized into one of four styles: secure, preoccupied, fearful and dismissing. As a continuous measure of attachment styles, participants were also asked to rate the degree to which each of these styles described them. Results of multiple regression analyses with 16 potential variables predicting empathy found that empathy toward rape victims was predicted only by sex of participant and actual preoccupied relationship style, while overall victim empathy was predicted by sex of participant and ideal secure relationship style. ANOV A results indicated no difference in rape victim empathy as a function of victim-perpetrator association, although a main effect for sex was found, with females indicating greater rape victim empathy than males. T-tests were utilized to explore differences in empathy across paired scenarios and results indicated greater participant empathy for a mentally ill person who was medication and treatment compliant compared to one who was not; a college woman whose boyfriend broke up with her who nonetheless performed well on mid-terms compared to one who performed poorly; and someone with a positive cancer prognosis compared to a terminal patient. ANOVAs across four actual attachment styles indicated that individuals who had a secure actual relationship style had lower self esteem than individuals with a preoccupied or a fearful actual relationship style. There were no significant differences in self esteem as a function of the ideal attachment style. The results conflict with existing literature, indicating possible problems in the measures and methodology utilized in the current study and suggesting future research directions, such as examining internal working models of attachment in greater depth, particularly as they related to sexual assault.



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