Cognitive Coping With the Threat of Rape: Vigilance and Cognitive Avoidance


Address correspondence to Barbara Krahé, University of Potsdam, Department of Psychology, Postfach 60 15 53, D-14415 Potsdam, Germany, E-mail: Special thanks go to Anja Berger for setting up the online studies. The support of Steffen Bieneck, Sabine Meißner, and Ingrid Möller in Studies 1 and 2 is also gratefully acknowledged.


Abstract Individual differences in women's avoidant and vigilant style in coping with the threat of rape were explored in four studies. In the first study, 97 women read a rape scenario and completed measures of cognitive vigilance and avoidance. They also provided ratings of fear of rape and anticipated coping problems in case of sexual assault. Vigilance was associated with significantly higher levels of fear of rape and anticipation of more severe coping problems. No effects were found for cognitive avoidance. Study 2 replicated these findings with a sample of 275 women. In addition, it showed that high vigilance was associated with significantly more rape-preventive behaviors. Study 3, including 172 women, was an online study on the effect of cognitive coping style on fear of rape, anticipated coping problems, and two behavioral measures of rape avoidance. High vigilance was related to higher levels of fear of rape, anticipation of more severe coping problems, and more rape-preventive behaviors. Finally, Study 4 (N=210) showed that individual differences in cognitive coping style affected rape-related affect and behavior in the absence of a rape scenario, underlining the chronic salience of the threat of rape for women. Vigilance was positively related to fear of rape, rape-avoidance behavior, and anticipated coping problems. In contrast, a negative relationship was found between cognitive avoidance and fear of rape, rape-avoidance strategies, and anticipated coping problems. Across the four studies, no evidence was found for an interactive effect of cognitive avoidance and vigilance, as suggested by the construct of repression versus sensitization. The findings are discussed in the light of previous research on repression-sensitization in coping with threatening information.