Aoife Trotter: Investigate How Attitudes and Beliefs May Impact Psychopathology

My name is Aoife Trotter and I am a second-year psychology student at Florida State University. This year I participated in the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program and worked as an undergraduate research assistant in the Anxiety and Behavioral Health Clinic (ABHC) under Dr. Brad Schmidt. Specifically, I was assigned to work on a pilot study of an online app that targeted anxiety sensitivity in recent female survivors of sexual assault. While assisting on this project, I learned a lot about trauma research and I found myself asking questions about how factors surrounding sexual assault influence psychopathology and recovery, and about the importance of challenging the “default” population of sexual assault research: cisgender, heterosexual women. While studies like the trial I assisted with are crucial in aiding this population, I developed the belief that psychological research regarding trauma ought to diversify its focus in order to destigmatize important conversations about sexual assault. As my involvement with the ABHC continued, I wanted to explore the intersections of marginalization, attitudes and beliefs, and sexual assault, and thus pursued the IDEA Grant program in the hopes of conducting research that would begin to answer some of these questions.

My IDEA Grant project will investigate how attitudes and beliefs impact psychopathology following sexual assault in a sample of LGBT survivors. While previous research demonstrates that LGBT individuals are at an equal or higher risk for experiencing sexual assault as cisgender, heterosexual women, most research examining the effects and factors playing into assault and assault recovery are focused on the latter demographic. Additionally, attitudes and beliefs such as rape myth endorsement, world assumptions, and ambivalent sexism have been found to influence aspects of appraising sexual assault, such as victim blaming, and development of post-traumatic stress disorder in survivors. While these studies provide valuable insight to possible cognitive factors that influence how people view sexual assault, they are generally situated from the perspective of bystanders rather than the survivors themselves. Thus, my study aims to fill two gaps in current psychological research: understanding the impact of sexual assault on LGBT individuals and identifying attitudes and beliefs that impact mental health following sexual assault in this population.

Visual representation of data from Ford & Soto-Marquez, 2016 and Coulter et al., 2017.

In order to accomplish these goals, I will compile questionnaires and inventories that assess mental health (including but not limited to anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress symptoms), general functioning, and relevant attitudes and beliefs. Following the compilation of these measures in the Qualtrics survey service, I will use Mechanical Turk to recruit adult participants who self-identify as LGBT and report lifetime sexual assault. After the data has been collected, I intend to use statistical measures of association to understand the relationships between reported attitudes and beliefs and reported mental health measures. Currently, I hypothesize that higher scores measuring attitudes and beliefs like rape myth acceptance and ambivalent sexism will be positively associated with post-traumatic stress symptoms, anxiety, and depression, and negatively associated with general functioning. Additionally, I hypothesize that world assumptions will be associated with post-traumatic stress symptoms. The IDEA Grant funding enables me to compensate participants for their time and effort, as well as use technology like Mechanical Turk to recruit a relatively specific sample. Implications for this study are wholly positive, and include diversifying psychological research and promoting inclusivity, understanding the intersection between attitudes and beliefs and psychopathology in the context of trauma, and providing preliminary results that narrow existing gaps in psychological research.

I am truly passionate about this project, and I intend to dedicate my undergraduate career to exploring this topic through the IDEA Grant program and by continuing my research through Honors in the Major. I hope to pursue a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology after graduation and become a therapist; this IDEA Grant project is providing me with invaluable experience and mentorship that will aid me in these goals, and I couldn’t be more excited to begin my study!

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