A COMPARATIVE STUDY OF COLLEGE WOMEN WITH AND WITHOUT INCEST
EXPERIENCE IN RELATION TO SELF CONCEPT AND
JUDITH MARIE McBRIDE
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE COUNCIL OF
THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE
DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
Judith Marie McBride
the loving memory
of my Father
There are many people who are deserving of special thanks and ap-
preciation for their personal contributions during the completion of
this dissertation. To those women with incest experience who partici-
pated in this study, I wish to express my personal graditude and admira-
tion for their courage in facing their incest secret. Without their
willingness to assist me in my research, and their sincere hope of
helping other victims, this work might not have been accomplished.
I also would like to thank the counseling professionals at the
Sexual Assault Recovery and Student Mental Health Services at the Uni-
versity of Florida for their cooperation and participation in this study.
I am also appreciative of the special caring and assistance provided by
my chairperson, Dr. Janet Larsen, who was unwavering in her support of
me and my personal competencies. To my other committee members, Dr.
Bob Algozzine and Dr. Paul Fitzgerald, I wish to express my thanks for
their careful guidance and unconditional support.
To my husband, Robert David, I wish to express my appreciation for
his wonderful and understanding nature, particularly his patience and
sense of humor during this long and arduous task. Of great benefit to
me was his ability, as a clinical psychologist, to contribute in dis-
cussions involving incest research. This was only one of the ways his
consistent and caring companionship was felt.
In consideration of their personal inconvenience and frequent
accommodations, I extend my thanks and appreciation to my stepsons,
Jonathan and Benjamin. Without their support and the support of my
husband, the process of completing this work would have been more
I am thankful to my parents for their love and encouragement through-
out my efforts to be my personal best.
I wish to acknowledge my appreciation for the interest and support
I received from friends. In particular, I would like to mention Mindy
Hersch, Gilda Josephson, and Linda Hague for their unique contributions.
With regard to Mindy Hersch, I would like to comment that I will fondly
remember our active sharing during the completion of our graduate work
(it did make all the difference). And to Gilda Josephson, I wish to
acknowledge my gladness for our sharing in the many intense hours of
psychotherapy with incest survivors. I wish to mention my thanks to
Linda Hague for her participation and caring during the last leg of this
Several incest researchers deserve acknowledgement because of their
direct or indirect impact on my research. I would like to thank Judith
Herman and David Finkelhor for their personal consultation. I am
appreciative of their research efforts, as well as those efforts by
Lisa Herschman and Christine Courtois. The research of these individuals
was facilitative to my own study of incest.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS . . . .
ABSTRACT. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I INTRODUCTION . . . . . . . . . . . .
Background . . . . . . . . . . . .
Purpose of the Study . . . . . . . . . .
Rationale . . . . . . . . . . .
Definition of Terms . . . . . . . . .
Organization of the Study . . . . . . . .
II REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE . . . . . . . . .
Introduction . . . . . . .
Part I . . . . . . . .
The Incest Taboo . . . .
Incest prohibition and type (
Peer incest . . . .
Historical Perspective on Incest.
Scope of the Problem . . .
Prevalence on incest . .
Relationship of incest aggressor and victim. .
Part II . . . . . . . . . . . .
Psychological Effects . . . . . . . .
Early effects of child sexual abuse . . .
Effects of childhood incest experience . . .
Adult psychological functioning of women
incest victims . . . . . . . .
Guilt Disposition and Self-Concept . . . .
The Mosher Guilt Forced-Choice Inventory . . .
Summary . . . . . . . . . . . .
III METHODOLOGY . . . . . . . . . . .
Introduction . . . . . . . . . . .
Research Questions . . . . . . . . . .
Hypotheses . . . . . . . . . . . .
Population and Sample . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . iii
Instruments . . . . . . . . . .
Tennessee Self-Concept Scale . . . . .
The Mosher Guilt Forced-Choice Inventory (Form F)
Client Self-Perception and Counselor Perception
Questionnaires . . . . . . . .
Procedures . . . . . . . . . . .
Research Design . . . . . . . . .
Limitations . . . . . . . . . .
IV RESULTS . . . . . . . . . . .
Demographic Findings . . . . . . . . .
Experimental Group . . . . . . .
Control Group . . . . . . . . .
Matching of Groups . . . . . . ...
Analysis of matching . . . . . .
Analysis of client and counselor perceptions
Clinical Findings . . . . . . . . .
Experimental Group Incest Involvement . . ..
Comparisons Related to Self-Concept . . . .
Comparisons Related to Guilt Disposition . .
Additional Analysis . . . . . . . .
V DISCUSSION, IMPLICATIONS, AND CONCLUSION . . . .
Discussion . . . . . . . . . . .
Implications . . . . . . . . . .
Conclusions . . . . . . . . . .
BIBLIOGRAPHY . . . . . . . . . . .
A METHOD OF CONTACT WITH UNIVERSITY COUNSELING PROFESSIO
B PROTOCOL OF INSTRUCTIONS . . . . . . . .
C REQUEST FOR SUBJECT PARTICIPATION . . . . .
D CONSENT FORM . . . . . . . . . . .
E CLIENT SELF-PERCEPTION QUESTIONNAIRE . . . . .
F COUNSELOR PERCEPTION QUESTIONNAIRE . . . . .
G DEMOGRAPHIC INFORMATION QUESTIONNAIRE . . . .
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH . . . . . . . . . .
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate Council
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements
for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
A COMPARATIVE STUDY OF COLLEGE WOMEN WITH AND WITHOUT INCEST
EXPERIENCE IN RELATION TO SELF-CONCEPT
AND GUILT DISPOSITION
Judith Marie McBride
Chairperson: Dr. Janet Larsen
Major Department: Counselor Education
The purpose of this study was to compare college women in counseling
with and without incest experience with respect to guilt disposition and
self-concept. An aim of this study was to determine the impact of incest
experience on the adult psychological functioning of women for these
dimensions of personality.
For the purpose of this study, fifteen experimental and fifteen
control subjects were administered the Tennessee Self-Concept Scale
(TSCS), the Mosher Guilt Forced-Choice Inventory (MGFCI), and three
questionnaires developed by this researcher. The Demographic Information
Questionnaire (DIQ) collected data on background history and pertinent
information regarding the incest involvement of the experimental group.
The Client Self-Perception Questionnaire (CLSQ) and the Counselor Per-
ception Questionnaire (COPQ) were developed to match client groups on
overall psychological functioning.
A t-test analysis was used for comparison between groups. All
statistical tests were set at a .05 significance level. Additional
analyses were completed using the Spearman Rho correlation method.
The results of the study indicated that college women incest vic-
tims in counseling do not differ significantly from other college women
in counseling on self-concept. No differences between groups emerged
for guilt disposition, with one exception. A significant difference was
indicated for sex-guilt. The incest subjects had significantly higher
sex-guilt than the non-incest group.
Highly suggestive trends indicated that incest clients suffer greater
psychological difficulty at the onset of therapy than do their non-incest
counterparts. Further, incest subjects showed a significant decrease in
dispositional guilt states as exposure to therapy increased. The incest
subjects showed a highly suggestive trend of improved Self-Satisfaction,
Physical Self, and Moral-Ethical Self, as exposure to therapy increased.
No trends emerged for the non-incest subjects.
Based on the findings of the study, it was concluded that incest
victims suffer greater sex-guilt than other women due to their sexual
victimization. Implications of this research are that sex-guilt
directly results from moral conflict engendered by incest activity and
that sex-guilt powerfully effects the development of later adult sexual
disturbances. Special implications for counseling professionals about
incest are discussed.
Recent attention to the multi-dimensional problem of incest has been
brought about by mounting evidence that incest is a social phenomenon of
epidemic proportions (Finkelhor, 1979). Incest involvement, more often
perpetrated by an older male in the nuclear and/or extended family of
the victim, usually involves a female child. This investigation focuses
on the long-term psychological effects of incest involvement for women
who have been victimized as children.
It is likely that a child's incest involvement has a profound effect
on her moral development. The moral contradictions implicit in the
father-daughter relationship, for example, introduce a set of standards
for what is "right" or "wrong" that departs from established moral con-
vention. This situation presents the child with a formidable dilemma.
The dilemma is that the parents (one of whom is an incest aggres-
sor), the guardians and transmitters of society's values, teach the
child, with the child's ambivalent complicity, a practice that is pro-
foundly discordant with one of society's most sacred rules. The psycho-
logical accommodations that the victim must make in an attempt to solve
this complicated dilemma contribute to a difficult moral development.
The victim's knowledge that she is participating in behavior that
is "wrong" engenders guilt which promotes self-devaluation. She is
further upset by the question, "Why is it that Daddy (father figure or
trusted older family member) is doing something 'wrong' with me?" The
answers she supplies to this basic question are tangled and tragic indeed.
Generally, the victim resolves that she must deserve this treatment be-
cause she is bad, evil, deserving of punishment, or unworthy of a better
relationship with the aggressor. These early answers develop into be-
liefs that serve to shape a disturbed sense of self.
Adult women incest victims must learn to cope with the aftermath
of this type of early sexual experience. Clinical studies of their adult
psychological functioning reveal that a variety of difficulties and a
range of symptoms exist for these women (Courtois & Watts, 1982; Justice
& Justice, 1979; Meiselman, 1980; Tsai & Wagner, 1978). This study ex-
plores several variables of psychological functioning that refer to moral
development and are frequently cited as problem areas for women victims
Experimental efforts to study the area of incest behavior have met
with difficulty due to the complicating nature of the "incest taboo."
Until recently, society's abhorence of incest behavior and rejection of
those involved in incest activity promoted a stifling social climate.
Incest victims and aggressors have chosen to keep their behavior cloaked
in secrecy lest they suffer social condemnation and further personal and
familial disruption (Armstrong, 1979; Courtois & Watts, 1982; Finkelhor,
1979; Herman & Hirschman, 1981).
Society's attitude toward helping incest victims, aggressors, and
their families is more favorable than it has been in the past. Despite
noted improvements, society's response to this acknowledged social prob-
lem is still in its infancy. This is exemplified by the cumbersome
relationship that exists between the social and legal agencies.
Although agencies may share common goals, the alternatives available
to them as determined by their different roles in the formal profes-
sional structure are limiting and sometimes at cross purposes. For
instance, an aim and responsibility of these agencies is to prevent child
sexual abuse. However, a child's disclosure of incest activity to a
social service professional is equivalent to detection because the re-
flex action expected of the professional person is to report such an
instance to the appropriate legal authorities. The child, whose dis-
closure is an effort to solicit help, is usually unaware of the effect
of breaking secrecy. At this point, or any juncture along the way, the
child may retract her accusations for fear of family dissolution and
retaliation by the involved parties. The parents' (or involved party's)
fear of public censure and the potential legal consequences for the
incest aggressor not only discourages their seeking professional help,
but serves to influence the child's behavior after authorities are
The frightening possibilities of fostercare placement, legal con-
sequences for the incest aggressor, and the tremendous impact of family
dynamics upon the child often lead to a retraction of the incest
Even if a complaint is made, which is unlikely, the
chances are slight that the case will ever go to
trial, still slighter that the father will be found
guilty, and even slighter that, if convicted, he
will be sentenced to prison. (Herman & Hirschman,
1981, p. 167)
The time interval between initial complaint and prosecution of the
aggressor sometimes is months long. Unless otherwise restricted, the
aggressor is usually at liberty to have contact with the child. This
circumstance leaves the child vulnerable to coercive attempts for con-
tinued sexual contact or retaliation by the incest aggressor. It also
leaves the aggressor free to exact his power and influence over family
members to ostracize the victim unless she drops the charges against
him (Herman & Hirschman, 1981). The impact of this situation upon the
child is augmented by the child's own inability to endure the pressures
of police investigation and court trial.
The legal ramifications of a child's admission of incest activity
are traumatic and provide little solace. The intent of the social ser-
vice professional to aid the victim and family is exacerbated by the
necessary influence of the legal system. The impact of the legal cir-
cumstances upon all the individuals involved makes it hard for the
social service professional to establish a helping effect. The report
of the incest to the authorities is inconsistent with the confidential
and trusting characteristics known to the counseling profession. What
once was a disclosive client has perhaps become a resistant, frightened,
and uncooperative one.
Yet, the influence of the social service professionals, by virtue
of their developing expertise in working with the victim, family, and
offender, upon the approach of the legal authorities is having signifi-
cant impact. For example, Henry Giaretto's Child Sexual Abuse Treatment
Program in Santa Clara County, California, works collaboratively with
the criminal justice system. A supportive network exists wherein
incest aggressors are arrested and removed to jail while simultaneously
involved in individual and family treatment through this pro-
Additionally, victim advocacy programs are helping to facilitate
the victim's participation through the intensely stressful and often
traumatic court process. Also, they have aided in the reduction of
some of the trauma accompanying these procedures (Herman & Hirschman,
It is evident that the relationship between the victim, offender,
and helping agency is affected by both internal and external pressure.
The external pressure from the legal and social agencies and their com-
bined efforts are, at present, not successful in helping many incest
cases. For each case of childhood incest known to the legal and social
services, many remain undetected. The child victim who has grown to
adulthood without social and legal intervention more often than not
continues a silent struggle.
As inroads are being made toward improving the current system,
particular challenges remain in helping the adult woman who has ex-
perienced early childhood incest experience and who is beyond the reach
of the legal authorities. This research is an effort to meet this
Purpose of the Study
The purpose of this study was to compare college women in counsel-
ing with and without incest experience with respect to guilt disposition
and self-concept. This comparison was based on the following two
(1) How do women in counseling with incest experience differ
from women in counseling without incest experience with
respect to guilt disposition?
(2) How do women in counseling with incest experience differ
from women in counseling without incest experience with
respect to self-concept?
It was an expectation of this research that answers to these ques-
tions would provide more information about the long term psychological
effects of early incest experience, as well as substantiate existing
data currently found in the incest literature regarding the impact of
incest experience upon adult women. Substantiated information aids
attempts to develop appropriate, effective treatment method and social
An extensive body of general incest literature exists, with most
investigations taking the form of "anecdotal" clinical studies (Herman
& Hirschman, 1981; Justice & Justice, 1979; Meiselman, 1978; Weinberg,
1955). There is a need to ascertain the accuracy of the information
known to date as brought forward by previous research, through the use
of more rigorous research methods. This study provides the needed
systematic assessment currently lacking in this area by using a control
group and a replicable, controlled clinical approach. The meaningful-
ness of the control group method is well articulated by Campbell and
Stanley (1963), "To evaluate anything objectively, it is necessary to
compare it with something else" (p. 34).
Research on this subject is not without its complications. One
of the difficulties involving the study of incest is the experimental
bias resulting from the use of subjects who have come into contact with
legal authorities and helping agencies, and the availability of volunteer
populations. This is a methodological concern, one which also applies
to this research. This study is another investigation aimed at under-
standing this social problem using a descriptive approach and a self-
selected volunteer population.
For the purpose of this study, a description of how incest victims
are functioning at the present time was attempted in light of several
relevant variables. Women in counseling with a history of incest were
compared with women in counseling without a history of incest on the
variables of self-concept and guilt disposition. Differences in func-
tioning between the groups is not attributable to the incest victim's
patient status, a criticism of previous research.
The instruments used to objectively measure these variables were
the Tennessee Self Concept Scale (TSCS) and the Mosher Guilt Forced-
Choice Inventory (MGFCI) (Form F). The groups are described in terms of
selected demographic information, subject and referring therapist's
perception of overall psychological functioning, as well as overall and
subscale score comparisons derived from the two instruments.
It is expected that the results of this study may be used by pro-
fessionals in the field of counseling to increase their understanding
of the adult college female client who reports childhood incest experi-
ence. By virtue of this research effort, it is hoped that university
counseling programs may become more sensitive to the need for training
and dissemination of information about this subject through their cur-
The information that exists regarding the psychological functioning
of adult women who have experienced incest in childhood is mostly
anecdotal. The reports are often uncontrolled clinical studies which
indicate that a range of symptoms exist for these women which hinder
optimum adjustment. These studies have also provided support for the
notion that early sexual trauma is significantly related to adult
psychological disturbance (Herman & Hirschman, 1981; Peters, 1976;
Sloan & Karpinski, 1942; Summit & Kryso, 1978).
It has been noted that many of these women suffer from problems in
both personal and social domains (Courtois & Watts, 1982). Some of the
common clinical findings in the personal domain are the following:
negative self-concept (Tsai & Wagner, 1978); depression, anxiety, and
suicidal ideation (Courtois & Watts, 1982; Meiselman, 1980; Tsai & Wagner,
1978); phobias and physical complaints (Courtois & Watts, 1982; Herman
& Hirschman, 1981; Meiselman, 1978); feelings of guilt (Finkelhor, 1979;
Herman & Hirschman, 1981; Meiselman, 1978), anger (Herman & Hirschman,
1981; Meiselman, 1978; Sgroi, 1982); and sexual identity conflict (Cour-
tois & Watts, 1982; Meiselman, 1978; Tsai, Feldman-Summers, & Edgar,
1979; Tsai & Wagner, 1978). Less frequently, character and psychotic
disorders result (Chesler, 1973; Herman & Hirschman, 1981; Meiselman,
1978; Sgroi, 1982).
Common problems in the social domain include the following: isola-
tion (Finkelhor, 1979; Herman & Hirschman, 1981; Tsai & Wagner, 1978);
a pronounced mistrust of men and a general mistrust of others (Herman &
Hirschman, 1981; Meiselman, 1978; Tsai & Wagner, 1978); and interper-
sonal difficulties with mate, parents, in-laws, and children (Courtois
& Watts, 1982). Relationships are often described as "empty, super-
ficial, conflictual, or sexualized" (Courtois & Watts, 1982, p. 276).
Sometimes victims report feelings of guilt and shame when in relationships
that seem satisfactory or good because of basic feelings of unworthi-
ness. These feelings may prevent the maintenance, and also the forma-
tion, of such relationships. Whatever the relationship of these feelings
to the formation and maintenance of intimate bonds, many incest victims
question whether a positive personal relationship can exist.
Of the difficulties cited in the literature, problems in the per-
sonal domain cluster around areas related to self-concept and guilt. In
addition to the saliency of self-concept and guilt as problem issues for
incest victims, the selection of these variables is influenced by their
important theoretical relationship within the context of moral develop-
Moral development is a gradual learning process involving the con-
cepts of right and wrong. Initially, a child innocently accepts
parental values. The maturing individual learns to assess values gained
from blind acceptance, and progressively develops a uniquely personal
moral code. A developing consciousness of "right" and "wrong" becomes
influenced by social agents outside of the family such as peer and
religious groups, and school environment. Early in the incest rela-
tionship, a child's confusion over the sexual aggression of a trusted
family member and their demand for secrecy is well established. Simul-
taneously, or later when the child is acquainted with societal values
regarding sexual contact between family members, it can be expected that
increased confusion and emotional conflict arises. The bond of secrecy
is further reinforced after encountering other social influences, for
the incest victim recognizes her vulnerability and anguish to be great
if she discloses incest activity.
For the incest victim, conflicts that arise out of a comparative
assessment between parental and societal values may be particularly
difficult to resolve. Due to the issue of secrecy and the unwillingness
of many adults to discuss incest, a child is left to comprehend and
understand the experience on her own. Tsai, Felman-Summers, and Edgar
(1979) indicate that
Many women who had escaped without permanent harm
remembered particular people who had helped them to
integrate and overcome their sexual trauma. (p. 407)
That unresolved conflict is the more frequent outcome is not surprising.
Due to the fact that unresolved conflict can be a motivating force long
after the original event, with later behavior affected by lack of suc-
cessful resolution (Meiselman, 1978), it can be anticipated that early
incest experience can have lasting psychological effects. In the event
of incest, a child would need assistance to work through her trauma to
help minimize psychological harm.
Coleman (1964) explains that an individual's developing moral
standards when coupled with early sexual trauma can engender guilt
feelings and a negative attitude toward sex. Both passive toleration
or active involvement in the incestuous experience encourages feeling
of self-devaluation, particularly exacerbated by a growing knowledge of
social prohibition against this type of behavior. The relationship of
guilt and self-concept is further clarified when it is known that guilt
is a major impetus for personal devaluation (Fehr & Stamps, 1979; Janda
& O'Grady, 1976; Mosher, 1968), a circumstance found to be consistent
across cultures (Coleman, 1964). Positive concept of self is altered
when major guilt is present.
Participation in early sexual activity and violation of personal
moral standards may create major personal problems during adulthood. An
in-depth look at guilt disposition and self-concept is attempted due to
their significance as problem areas for adult women with incest histories.
The importance of studying the relationship between self-concept and
guilt disposition is that it may lead to an understanding of how to help
incest victims view themselves positively in spite of their past incest
experience, guilt, and loss of self-worth. Further, if it can be demon-
strated that individuals with incest experience have levels of guilt and
degrees of self-concept which differ significantly from women without
incest experience, further study on the part of social service profes-
sionals would be needed to facilitate the development of optimum helping
Definition of Terms
The following terms and their definitions will be applied in this
Guilt disposition is a generalized expectancy for self-mediated
punishment for violating or anticipating violating internalized standards
of moral behavior and is thus a cognitive disposition (Mosher, 1979).
Sex-guilt is a generalized expectancy for self-mediated punishment
for violating or anticipating violating internalized standards for
sexual behavior (Mosher, 1979).
Hostility-guilt is a generalized expectancy for self-mediated
punishment for violating or anticipating violating internalized standards
for expression of hostile behavior (Mosher, 1979).
Morality-conscience is a generalized expectancy for self-mediated
punishment for violating or anticipating violating internalized standards
of appropriate conduct (Mosher, 1979).
Self-concept is how an individual perceives himself (Fitts, 1965).
Incest refers to sexual contact with a person who would be considered
an ineligible partner because of his blood or social ties (i.e., kin)
to the subject and her family. The term encompasses several categories
of partners, including father, setpfather, grandfather, uncles, siblings,
cousins, in-laws, and what is called "quasi-family." The last category
includes parental and family friends (e.g., mother's sexual partner).
The incest taboo will apply to anyone from whom a child should rightfully
expect warmth or protection and sexual distance (Benward & Densen-
Organization of the Study
The remainder of the study will be presented in four chapters.
Chapter II will present a review of the related pertinent literature in
order to provide a theoretical foundation in support of the study.
Chapter III will provide an outline of the methodology that will be
utilized to complete this study. Chapter IV will present the research
findings, and Chapter V will present a discussion of the research find-
ings and will introduce implications generated by the findings.
REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
This chapter will review selected topic areas of the incest litera-
ture as they relate to the psychological functioning of adult women
incest victims. A contextual framework will be used which will provide
an understanding of this social problem in view of its historical and
theoretical references, widespread nature of occurrence, and accumulated
evidence on the net psychological effects of the incest experience
This review will be comprised of Parts I and II. Part I will con-
sist of a theoretical account of the origin and function of the incest
taboo, and a historical account of the incest problem. This account will
identify the influences affecting the recognition of incest as a major
social concern. Part I will also present the prevalence of incest
within the context of the more general problem of child sexual abuse,
in addition to a brief description of the types of incest relationships
and their frequency of occurrence.
Part II of this review will address the immediate and long term
effects of childhood incest experience, an explanation of the dependent
variables,guilt disposition and self-concept, and their mutual importance
in the study of incest subjects. Additionally, Part II will provide a
review of the literature for the Mosher Guilt Forced-Choiced Inven-
The Incest Taboo
The incest taboo is a universal social prohibition (Forward & Buck,
1978; Herman & Hirschman, 1981; Meiselman, 1978). Anthropologists
generally believe that it is the foundation of all kinship structures.
Some view the taboo as the basic social contract (Levi-Strauss, 1969),
and others view it as a means of preserving human social order (Meade,
1968). The violation of the taboo brings about strong emotional reac-
tions and severe societal consequences for which sociologists, psycholo-
gists, and anthropologists find keen interest.
While prohibitions against sexual relations or mar-
riage between uncles and nieces, aunts and nephews,
cousins, and relatives by marriage vary consider-
ably among cultures, there are almost always severe
penalties for sexual relations with the nuclear
family, with the obvious exception of husbands and
wives. (Meiselman, 1978, p. 1)
Several theories have been advanced to explain not only the per-
sistance of the incest taboo, but also its probable beginning. What
follows is a chronology of those major theories significant to under-
standing this social prohibition.
The biological theory, one of the first to emerge, attracted atten-
tion before 1900. It began to recede during the 1920s due to a general
resistance by social scientists to accept biological explanations for
human behavior. The biological theory, developed while the field of
genetics was in its infancy, contends that consanguineous marriages
result in offspring who are physically inferior. It is suggested that
consanguineous marriages were once commonplace, then abandoned, with
exogamy later taking its place (Meiselman, 1978). The biological theory
posits that the evolution of the incest taboo is based on early man's
recognition that weaker offspring are attributed to inbreeding.
At the time, an initial and major criticism of this point of view
was that it failed to explain how primitive people, as well as tribes
today who have failed to make a connection between intercourse and preg-
nancy, could possibly have insight into problems of inbreeding. In
brief, the biological theory was seen as an unsatisfactory assertion
regarding the incest taboo and its origin when it first emerged. As will
be discussed later, greater acceptance of this theory occurred in the
The natural aversion theory (Fox, 1962; Westermarch, 1922) postu-
lates that the incest taboo is noninstinctive and that psychological
mechanisms are responsible for maintaining sanctions against sex between
family members. According to this theory, family members express a
natural aversion for "mutual sexual expression" (Meiselman, 1978). This
aversion is then registered as the incest taboo, which may extend beyond
the nuclear family.
Fox created an explanation of how the natural aversion process works.
His hypothesis is that prepubertal siblings have natural physical con-
tact with arousal as a consequence of living intimately, although, due
to their developmental limitations are unable to achieve orgasm. The
resultant frustration caused by inability to reach orgasm is paired with
sibling sexual contact which leads to avoidance behavior. This avoidance
behavior continues into adolescence and adulthood.
This hypothesis is sharply criticized because it does not address
the issue of how the taboo is so intensely enforced both in the past
and present. Additionally, this theory implies that the sexual drive
in and of itself, may not be satisfying and reinforcing due to inability
to achieve orgasm. This establishes orgasm as a necessary requirement
for sexual encouragement. This theory does not explain the many cases
of marriage by persons who grow up in the same family environment who
are unrelated. Furthermore, Kinsey's (1953) research indicates that
prepubertal children are capable of orgasm.
In support of this theory, children raised in the Israeli Kibbutsin
in the same environment have been found to reject each other as sexual
partners despite their unrelatedness. And,
From appearances, brothers and sisters who have been
separated for lengthy periods during adolescence have
seemed less restrained by the incest taboo. (Weinberg,
1955, p. 8)
Even though this evidence suggests the plausibility of the natural
aversion theory, it is more widely rejected because it does not offer
a primary explanation of the origin and function of the incest taboo.
Freud's (1913, 1946) explanation of the origin of the incest taboo
holds that a child has sexual desire for both parents, and that this
sexual desire is essential to normal healthy personality development.
The role of the parents) is to prohibit expression of the child's
sexual desire, thus establishing the parents as the enforcers of the
incest taboo. Freud contends that repression of incestuous wishes may
account for the intense emotionalism surrounding the incest prohibition.
Malinowski, a well known anthropologist, published his description
of the function of the incest taboo in 1927. His conclusion is that
family functioning will result in disorganization if sexual relation-
ships exist crossgenerationally with emotional conflicts stemming from
possessiveness, jealousies, and promiscuity within the family (Malinow-
ski, 1966). The important educational function of the family is thought
to be compromised by stress resulting from the emotional exchanges ex-
pected within a system where incestuous relationships occur.
White (1948) believes that the incest taboo developed out of a need
for economic survival. White dismisses the biological theory and derives
his own theory from a psychological premise; specifically, that sexual
desires among family members naturally occur. He postulates that the
incest prohibition develops in order to provide for a greater network of
cooperative relationships which will promote greater security through
mutual sharing of ideas and material goods.
Within the context of White's theory, the incest taboo requires
that family members join with unrelated individuals, thereby increasing
family size and enlarging upon the supportive social network. If in-
breeding occurs, an inward family development is expected to result,
with more smaller units in competitive strife over acquisition of goods.
White explains this as a deadly process in that familial self-annhilation
is expected to occur.
Social scientists commend White for providing a functional explana-
tion of the taboo, and criticize his inability to account for the inten-
sity of the incest horror and the taboo origin.
A multidimensional approach was offered by Murdock in 1949. The
foundation for his approach is drawn from sociology, Freudian psychology,
behaviorism, and cultural anthropology.
The emotional intensity surrounding the incest taboo is explained
in terms of Freud's Oedipal Theory. Through repression of incestuous
desires for a parent, the ego defense mechanism known as reaction forma-
tion is employed. This promotes a condemnation of others for acting on
incestuous desires, which stems from an individual's effort to keep
repressed those same desires. Family cohesion occurs due to lack of
internal conflict over jealousy and sexual competition. Due to incest
prohibition, marital ties by unrelated individuals increase, and the
likelihood of a cooperative network helpful to successful survival occurs.
The behavioral process known as stimulus-generalization accounts for the
development of the incest taboo for anyone who beyond the nuclear family
is relatively similar to nuclear family members. Individuals who are
similar to family members are seen as inappropriate sexual partners.
Kinship systems emerge which dictate who is similar to nuclear
family members and who is dissimilar. This concept is drawn from cul-
tural anthropology. Kinship systems establish those relations with whom
sex is prohibited. The incest taboo varies in application for extended
family relations; kinship systems are offered as an explanation for these
variations. Murdock (1949) implied through his explanation of the origin
and function of the taboo that no one theory can explain incest prohi-
bition. His multidimensional approach is popular among incest theorists
and is seen as sensible and intelligent (Meiselmqn, 1978).
A few important, singular ideas that contribute to the theoretical
approaches previously described are advanced by Parsons (1954) and
Slater (1959). Parsons describes the incest taboo as a necessary func-
tion for the development of healthy personality and "transfamilial roles"
vital to socialization. Slater implies in her notion about the incest
taboo that inbreeding effects are not responsible for the development
of the taboo.
Parsons' position does not promote a greater understanding of the
origin of the incest taboo, but offers a practical operating notion of
how the incest prohibition benefits society. His idea is founded upon
psychoanalytic theory which emphasizes the importance of incestuous de-
sire. He emphasizes that a child's progress through developmental stages
is motivated by incestuous desire in combination with the mother's func-
tion, which is to frustrate the child at appropriate intervals to compel
him toward normal progress. The child's early erotic experiences associ-
ated with the mother as the primary stimulus motivate the child to seek
stimulation by moving to higher stages of development. The mother's role
is to frustrate the child's incestuous desires at appropriate growth
stages. Later, during latency, the motivation for stimulation is
diverted toward the development of roles and associations outside of
the family (i.e., peer group relationships). Parsons contends that if
incest is acted upon, personality development will be disrupted. The
optimum integration of individual and society is also affected, if not
prevented, due to the social problems of inbreeding previously identi-
Slater (1959) suggests that inbreeding did not occur in primitive
nuclear families due to life conditions. Slater's idea is seen as pro-
vocative and interesting, a notion for which she has supplied convincing
evidence through her study of primitive societies in existence today.
She contends that by the time offspring had matured sexually, parents
had already died off.
Several objections have been raised over Slater's position. First,
her idea of early childhood sexuality runs counter to Kinsey's data
which indicate a prepubertal sexual activity does occur. Additionally,
she does not explain the development of the emotional intensity and the
absoluteness surrounding the incest taboo.
By the 1960's, a number of theories had been suggested to explain
the origin and current functioning of the incest taboo. No one theory
offered a complete and acceptable understanding. Most offered satisfac-
tory explanations for the functional aspects of the taboo in contemporary
society, although the origin of the incest taboo remained chiefly
Since the 1960's, the proponents of the biological theory have con-
tinued to examine the genetic effects of inbreeding with improved scien-
tific methods of research. Gilbert Lindzey punctuated the resurgence of
the biological theory in a presentation to the American Psychological
Association in 1967. Lindzey was successful in explaining the persuasive
evidence supporting a biological influence.
Lindzey posits that inbreeding in both animals and humans seriously
affects the fitness of offspring. He contends that in the long run,
inbreeding greatly hampers survival. Humans will be particularly vul-
nerable to the deleterious effects of inbreeding. This is partly due to
the human disadvantage of relatively few offspring, and a long sexual
development leading to maturation. Therefore, failure to develop exogamy
rules would eventuate in the extinction of family groups through a
natural selection process.
The previous criticism of the biological theory, the assumption
that primitive people could have insight into the effect of inbreeding,
is no longer suggested as a flaw in logic. Examination of the adaptive
behavior of animals now provides ample evidence that animals are not
dependent on insight and awareness for survival, and are able to naturally
select adaptive physical and behavioral characteristics. Insight and
awareness of inbreeding effects, which in humans is most often easily
recognizable (i.e., dwarfism, albinism), probably do reinforce the incest
taboo, but are not essential.
Of all the theories advanced since before 1920, the biological
theory is well respected and is viewed as a satisfactory explanation of
the origin of the incest taboo. It also explains incest avoidance be-
havior in both animals and humans. This theory does not imply that the
incest taboo is instinctual, only that related individuals who do not
marry survive through natural selection.
Sociological and psychological influences are still evident in that
the incest taboo does extend beyond the nuclear family. Effects of in-
breeding are decreased in this event. Consequently, it is thought that
the incest taboo is encouraged and sustained by other subtle and complex
forces. Variations in the laws regarding marriage of extended family
members across cultures is not explained by the biological theory because
inbreeding effects are reduced drastically outside of the nuclear family.
Perhaps Murdock's (1949) notion of stimulus generalization or White's
(1948) emphasis on the survival benefits of a cooperative social network
are the subtle and psychological forces affecting extended family and
the development of exogamy rules. Nevertheless, it seems important to
understand the primary nature of the biological theory and its explana-
tion of the incest taboo, but a broader theoretical base is needed to
understand its meaning and implications for society.
Incest prohibition and tvoe of relationship
As previously indicated, an incest horror or emotional intensity
surrounds the violation of this social prohibition. A "well established
characteristic of the incest taboo is that the intensity of the pro-
hibition varies markedly within the nuclear family" (Meiselman, 1978,
p. 24). As the type of incest relationship varies so does the emotional
It is found that the strength of the incest taboo is different
depending upon the degree of relatedness of the incest participants
(Berry, 1975). Incest relationships can be categorized as either cross-
generational or peer. In general, parent-child or cross-generational
incest is more taboo and promotes more severe societal reaction than
sibling incest or peer incest.
A public-opinion survey on type of incest found that 72% of
Americans thought father-daughter incest was more abhorrent than sibling
incest. It follows that the more taboo the behavior, the less frequent.
Thus, it is believed that sibling incest occurs with greater regularity
than parent-child. It is also viewed by many incest researchers that
cross-generational is the most psychologically damaging (Courtois, 1979;
Finkelhor, 1979; Herman & Hirschman, 1981; Justice & Justice, 1979;
Meiselman, 1978). Brother-sister incest is seen as less psychologically
damaging and "therefore less likely to be discovered in psychotherapeutic
research setting" (Meiselman, 1978, p. 76).
Sexual contact with a parent, foster or stepparent, grandparent,
uncle, aunt, second cousin, or guardian is viewed as cross-generational
incest (Courtois, 1979). Benward-Densen and Gerber (1975) have iden-
tified a relationship category called "quasi-family," which represents
those individuals who are in a parental and/or adult relationship with a
child and from whom the child expects protection and safety. These
individuals also are included in the cross-generational grouping.
The most frequently reported and the most common type of cross-
generational incest are father-daughter and stepfather-daughter (Finkel-
hor, 1979; Herman & Hirschman, 1981; Meiselman, 1978; Rush, 1980).
According to Meiselman, father-daughter is seen as less prohibitive than
mother-son, although the incest horror remains within severe proportions.
Few clinical cases of mother-son incest have been studied due to
the relatively few cases that have been available for study. It is sug-
gested in the literature that greater psychopathology exists for at least
one if not both of the participants in this relationship (Meiselman,
1978; Wahl, 1960; Weinberg, 1955). The circumstances that are seen as
fostering a mother-son liaison are the following: an abandonment,
absence or desertion by the father; absence of the mother during early
childhood years; little age disparity between mother and son; alcoholism;
few other sexual outlets for the son; and a previous history of family
incest (Weiner, 1964).
It is not agreed by investigators that the psychopathology of either
or both participants in mother-son incest and the potential psychological
risk is greater than in other types. Rush (1971) contends that due to
the strictness of the taboo involving this type of cross-generational
incest, researchers are themselves affected by their own biases.
Brother-sister is less taboo than parent-child incest across most
cultures (Meiselman, 1978). Due to the logical expectation previously
mentioned, that the greater the taboo the less frequent the type of
incest, it is documented consistently that brother-sister is more fre-
quent than any other type of incest relationship and is, in general, less
psychologically damaging (Meiselman, 1978; Finkelhor, 1980a). Meiselman
also notes that it is likely that due to less psychological damage expected
from this relationship, it can be understood that these types of clients
are not brought to the attention of the appropriate social and legal
authorities (Justice & Justice, 1979).
The fact that type of incest relationship and the degree of emo-
tional reaction to its violation varies, particularly within the nuclear
family, does not lend support for the biological theory. Inbreeding in
all cases of the nuclear family, except for stepparent, foster parent, or
guardian, carries with it equal possibility for harmful biological out-
come. The biological theory cannot account for these variations;
this circumstance points to the importance of social
and psychological influences for an understanding of
the interplay of factors associated with incest.
(Meiselman, 1978, p. 24)
Father-son and mother-daughter incest are rarely reported and are
seen as extremely offensive due to the violation of not only the incest
taboo, but the social prohibitions against homosexuality. Due to the
paucity of reports on these relationship types and their respective
psychological effects, little is known. Ongoing discussion and investi-
gation of rare cases continues.
Father-son incest has been reported on by Forward and Buck (1978),
Langsley, Schwartz, and Fairbairn (1968), and Raybin (1969). The rela-
tionship aspects found to date indicate that the father tends to be
aggressive, controlling, and infantalizing toward the son. The psycho-
sexual development of the father is arrested with unresolved adolescent
sexual conflicts responsible for his later adult behavior with his son.
The mother in the mother-daughter relationship has been found to
blurr caretaking, affectional, and sexual needs. She is characterized
as extremely dependent and overly needy. Her own neediness for pleasure
and affection is expressed at the expense of the child's needs (Forward
& Buck, 1978).
The stepfather-daughter relationship is a commonly found relation-
ship and is seen as less taboo than father-daughter and occurs in
families for similar reasons as father-daughter incest. Psychological
damage has been found to be great with stepfather-daughter incest even
though the taboo is less strong. Psychological damage is found to be
influenced by a variety of factors, among them the extent of affilial
A type of cross-generational incest that is becoming viewed as
increasingly common is that of quasi-family members. An example of this
type is the mother's live-in lover. Finkelhor (1979, 1980b) suggests that
a frequently changing list of quasi-family members may contribute to
"desertion anxiety," which may put the family at high risk for incest.
Peer incest is regarded as the most common form of incest. This type
of incest includes sibling, half sibling, and cousins (Courtois, 1979;
Finkelhor, 1980a). These types of relationships refer to those that go be-
yond normal sexual experimentation (Courtois, 1979). Damaging and lasting
psychological effects are not seen as resulting from these relationships unless
force, coercion, or psychopathology is involved (Courtois, 1979; Finkel-
hor, 1979; Forward & Buck, 1978). Additionally, it is noted by Finekl-
hor that severity of psychological effects is related to age discrepancy
between the partners. The greater the age difference the more damaging;
the relationship becomes more like cross-generational as the disparity
between partners increases.
The descriptions of peer and cross-generational incest have been
provided in the preceding paragraphs. In brief, as the strength of the
incest taboo varies within the nuclear and extended family, so does
society's reaction to its violation. In general, cross-generational
incest is found to be more psychologically damaging than peer incest.
Although it is expected that peer incest, particularly sibling, occurs
with greater regularity, the most frequently studied type of relation-
ships are father-daughter, and stepfather-daughter because they have been
brought to the attention of social and legal agencies, and thus, are
available for research purposes.
The psychological risks of incest behavior have been demonstrated
to be greater when (a) force or coercion are used, (b) psychopathology
in at least one of the participants exists, and (c) a marked age dis-
crepancy between incest partners is found.
Historical Perspective on Incest
Incest is not a new problem and it has not gone unnoticed by social
and legal professionals. What is new is the community acknowledgement
that is leading to a greater acceptance of incest as a social problem.
The following historical account will elucidate those aspects influencing
the identification, interpretation, and emergence of incest as a wide-
spread social phenomenon.
Important to modern psychology and the social problem of incest
is the impact of Freudian Theory upon the psychology of women. Recently,
several writers have asserted that Freud's Oedipal theory is his attempt
to explain the many self-disclosures of his female clients regarding their
sexual encounters with trusted adult men (Finkelhor, 1979; Forward &
Buck, 1978; Herman & Hirschman, 1981; Meiselman, 1978; Newsweek, 1981;
Rush, 1980). Freud's initial belief was that female neurosis, and
archtypal hysteria, were caused by the early sexual trauma of incest:
his "seduction theory" (Finkelhor, 1979; Herman & Hirschman, 1981; Meisel-
man, 1978). Instead of indicating that emotional upset is related to
incest experience, he preferred to explain the psychopathology of women
in terms of unresolved Oedipal conflicts. According to Oedipal Theory,
women who do not resolve to give up sexual fantasies involving parent
figures during an appropriate developmental period develop neurosis.
Some writers speculate that Freud changed his conviction regarding the
seduction theory because it was too monstrous an attack to mount against
supposedly respectable family men (Finkelhor, 1979; Herman & Hirschman,
1981; Meiselman, 1979).
Others accuse Freud of covering up the incest problem, altering the
details of his case studies to camouflage the real nature of the rela-
tionship between sexual aggressor and victim, and launching an inaccurate
etiology for female neurosis (Herman & Hirschman, 1981; Rush, 1980).
According to Finkelhor, Freud deserves credit for bringing the subject
of incest out of Victorian darkness. However, a growing number of
individuals view Freud as having directed attention away from the real
issue, seriously handicapping the development of an accurate understand-
ing of the psychology of women (Armstrong, 1978; Forward & Buck, 1978;
Newsweek, 1981; Rush, 1980), and consequently, men also.
Finkelhor and Rush indicate Freud's Oedipal theory resulted in two
negative outcomes. The first is that professionals in psychology and
related fields later learned not to believe the client who accused a
family relation of incest because claims of incest were interpreted as
merely incestuous wishes. Secondly, adults were not deemed responsible
for overt incest. This responsibility fell upon the shoulders of the
child who was viewed as perpetrator rather than victim.
Following Freud's announcement of his Oedipal theory, little
examination of early sexual trauma and its impact on psychological func-
tioning was accomplished for approximately fifty years. It was not
until Kinsey began his research on child sexuality in 1940 that sexual
abuse surfaced as an issue again. This time, child sexuality was being
examined by social scientists free from the constraints of psychoanalytic
Since 1940, five important surveys have been completed, inclusive
of the Kinsey Report. Kinsey's findings indicated that childhood sexual
experience is universal. Despite the accumulated evidence of early
sexual abuse experiences of his subjects, Kinsey concentrated on data
in terms of the normality of sexual experience.
He chose to give great emphasis to the normality of
homosexual experience, masturbation, and extramarital
affairs, but downplayed the commonness of sexual
abuse. (Finkelhor, 1979, p. 9)
Kinsey was successful in completing "4,000 interviews with young,
white, predominantly middle-class, urban, educated women" (Herman &
Hirschman, 1981, p. 12). Of these women, 1,200 were studied using more
extensive data by John Gagnon in 1965.
A third and fourth survey were completed by David Finkelhor (1979)
and Judson Landis (1956) on approximately 2,000 college students. The
respondents to these surveys were individuals in good health. A fifth
study was a collection of data from 142 psychiatric patients and 153
"normal controls" (Landis, 1940). According to Landis, no significant
differences existed between groups on the nature of early sexual ex-
These studies lacked representativeness in that their subject pools
did not include the lower socioeconomic levels, minorities, and urban-
ites. Those who fall into these categories are stereotypically seen as
those individuals capable of deviant sexual behavior (Herman & Hirschman,
1981). If this stereotype is to be believed, then the findings of these
studies would indicate deflated numbers with respect to sexual abuse.
Within the historical context, these five studies are the most compre-
hensive assessments documenting early sexual experience between children
and trusted adults. Further information about these studies will be
provided later in this chapter.
Finkelhor (1979) and Herman and Hirschman (1981) both refer to
social politics as an important factor affecting the recognition of
incest as a societal problem. Previous to the 1960's, researchers were
pursuing sexual reform on issues such as contraception, sex education,
reassessment of treatment methods for sex offenders, a less restrictive
attitude toward childhood sexual exploration, less prohibitive attitudes
toward the publication of erotic literature, and so on. Reformers avoided
the issue of child molestation because of the possible detriment this
issue would have on the acceptance of other issues (Finkelhor,
Herman and Hirschman (1981) point out how the lack of alignment
between sexual politics and the subject of incest impacted on L. Kirson
Weinberg's publication, Incest Behavior, in 1955. This was a study based
on 203 court or social agency referred cases of incest in the Chicago
No sensation, in fact, no public response of any kind
attended its publication. Weinberg went on to study
other more acceptable subjects, and Incest Behavior
quietly went out of print. (Herman & Hirschman, 1981,
The time was not yet right; it would be another fifteen to twenty years
before her publication would receive the recognition it deserved.
In the 1970's, the women's movement helped to bring incest out into
the open, as with other sensitive issues such as rape, spouse and child
abuse. Emerging concerns for the welfare of the victimare also a major
contributing factor leading to a more serious examination of those
children who suffer sexual abuse (Finkelhor, 1979). The prevailing
attitude leading up to the 1970's regarding the victim's degree of
responsibility for incest behavior has also undergone change. Instead
of accusing the child of lying when making claims of incest behavior,
she is now seen as innocent. The responsibility for incest activity
is now on the shoulders of the adult or older partner in the realtion-
Scope of the Problem
Before introducing the estimated incidence of incest, the more
general area of child sexual abuse and its estimated prevalence will
be given. Presently, there are no accurate national statistics on the
incidence of child sexual abuse. Current statistics refer to those
cases reported to social and legal authorities. It is suggested by
many researchers and authorities in the field that the true incidence
of child sexual abuse is many times greater than the number of cases
reported each year and may be more frequent than child physical abuse.
In the United States, child physical abuse is an estimated 200,000 cases
per year (Geiser, 1979).
There are a number of difficulties in the determination of nation-
wide incidence figures. When using cases recorded by various agencies,
statistics vary due to complications arising from the use of different
computation methods, definitions, age range, and whether or not boys
have been included in agency statistics. Even with the uncertainty of
the national prevalence figures for sexual abuse and the nonstandardized
collection of information by agencies, estimates of true incidence for
sexual abuse and incest have been attempted by several researchers.
Early estimates on the prevalence of sexual abuse were as low as
40 cases per million people, as determined by the American Humane
Association and DeFrancis (1969). The current estimate by the National
Center on Child Sexual Abuse is 100,000 cases per million. Some authori-
ties feel that these statistics are significantly underestimated and
offer ranges of 200,000 to 500,000 sexual abuse cases annually (Schultz,
In a retrospective study based on 1,000 women interviewed by
Kinsey, Gagnon (1970) learned that 28% of these women had experienced
a sexual encounter by age fourteen. Based on this percentage, he cal-
culated an estimate of child sexual abuse to be 500,000 cases a year.
Gagnon's broad criteria for sexual abuse allowed for incidents such as
exhibitionism which may account for this staggering figure.
Sarafino (1979) also determined an incidence figure to be within
the same range as Gagnon, arriving at a national incidence of 336,200
sexual crimes against children per year. Gagnon combined all sex crimes
into one category in an effort to compensate for the difficulties in
definition across agencies. He then determined that a ratio of three
and one-half to one, unreported to reported sex crimes occurs. Using
this ratio, he calculated the above figure.
A survey of six New England colleges showed that one out of five
women and one out of eleven men experience early sexual contact with
someone considerably older than themselves (six years or older) (Finkel-
hor, 1979). Based on Finkelhor's total sample of 796 college students,
an estimate of sexual victimization was determined to be 19% for women
and 9% for men.
In the study by the American Humane Association, sex crimes involving
9,000 children were reviewed. It was discovered that 75% of the sexual
aggressors were either related to or an acquaintance of the victim
(DeFrancis, 1969). Burgess and Holmstrom (1975) found that 30% to 80%
of all sexual abuse cases they studied involved perpetrators from within
the family. These statistics are further supported when compared to
estimates found for nonfamily perpetrators. Nonfamily perpetrators
comprise anywhere from 3% to 30% of sexual abuse cases (McGregor, 1955).
Of reported sexual abuse cases, statistics indicate that sexual offenses
against children are more frequently done by someone familiar to them
(Burgess & Holmstrom, 1975).
Prevalence on incest
In a landmark study by Weinberg (1955), the rate of incest was
determined to be an estimated 1.9 cases per million people. This early
estimate is considered to be low when compared with more recent data.
This estimate would amount to two in one million families affected each
year. More recent estimates indicate that 5% to 15% of all families have
experienced incest (Boekelheide, 1978). According to estimates based on
incest cases reported to the Santa Clara County Child Sexual Abuse
Treatment Program in California, 800 to 1,000 incest cases per million
are suggested (Giaretto, 1976).
Relationship of incest aggressor and victim
Statistics from five major studies have shown that father-daughter
incest is the type of relationship most frequently reported. In Wein-
berg's (1955) extensive study of 203 court referred cases, 164 were
father-daughter incest. In West Germany, Maisch (1972) used court re-
cords, questionnaires, and intelligence testing to study 78 court re-
ferred cases. Of these incest cases, 66 were father-daughter, four were
father-son, three were mother-son, and one was mother-daughter.
Using in-depth interviews with fifty-five incest victims referred
from several social service agencies in Northern Ireland, Lukianowicz
(1972) found 35 of the cases to be father-daughter. Three of the cases
involved mother-son incest. The criterion used for inclusion of incest
cases was sexual intercourse with a blood relative (Meiselman, 1978).
Over a period of three years, Meiselman (1978) studied 58 psycho-
therapy clients who admitted to incest experience. She discovered that
thirty-eight of her cases involved father-daughter incest with two
cases each for father-son and mother-son incest, and one case of mother-
Finally, Justice and Justice (1979) in studying clinic records found
96 cases of father-daughter incest of 103 parent-child cases. The number
of parent-child cases of these five studies numbers 424, 97% of which
were father-daughter incest (Herman & Hirschman, 1981).
The following is a review of the recent literature on the reported
long term psychological effects of childhood incest upon adult function-
ing of women. The information to be reported will include both the
anecdotal clinical cases and those few studies that have attempted to
concretize existing data through use of objective measures and control
groups. Attention will be given to the immediate effects of childhood
sexual abuse in general.
Although estimates on prevalence for the different types of incest
suggest that sibling incest is most common, and mother-son least common,
the cases most available for study are father-daughter incest. It is
important to note that the findings on the effects of early incest ex-
perience on the adult psychological functioning of women are primarily,
although not exclusively, derived from the study of this type of rela-
tionship. Thus, much of the following information pertains to incest
experience with the biological father and stepfather.
Early effects of child sexual abuse
The types of reactions characteristic of children who have been
sexually abused by adults have been well documented. Although there
are some individuals who stress positive benefits from sexual contact
with adults (Constantine, 1980), substantial evidence exists to indicate
that most children find sexual contact with adults disagreeable (Finkel-
hor, 1979; Herman & Hirschman, 1981). The majority of children disclose
reactions of fright, shock, fear, and extreme unpleasantness (Finkelhor,
1979; Gagnon, 1965; Landis, 1956), and have suffered from vomiting, and
less frequently, episodes of hysteria (Gagnon, 1965).
Vincent DeFrancis (1969) studied child sexual abuse cases referred
to a Child Protection Agency in New York. Soon after a victim's dis-
closure of sexual abuse, DeFrancis was called to interview each subject.
After completing 250 interviews, he determined that 66% of his subjects
showed emotional disturbance as a consequence of the sexual experience.
Severe disturbance was found in 14% of the cases. Disturbance was more
evident for cases of incest than for assaults by strangers. Guilt, shame,
feelings of inferiority and low self-esteem, anxiety, imitative ritualized
sexual behavior, hostile or aggressive behavior, and school problems
were the predominant symptoms found.
Despite negative reactions to such an experience, "many children
do not perceive themselves to be permanently harmed by the experience"
(Herman & Hirschman, 1981, p. 28). Children who have been involved in
nonviolent and/or contactless forms of sexual abuse, particularly if they
occurred only once (i.e., exhibitionism, voyeurism), failed to show or
admit to lasting distress (Herman & Hirschman, 1981). Some look upon
a child's unresolved feelings concerning sexual abuse as a time bomb
which will explode during later periods in a child's development
(Chesler, 1973). Meiselman (1978) emphasizes that trauma may not be
immediately evident, although, may potentially disrupt "subsequent per-
sonality development and contribute to adjustment problems that occur
much later" (p. 54).
Trauma from childhood sexual abuse is shown to be more likely if
it involves a family member, if the aggressor is much older, and if force
is used (Finkelhor, 1969; Gagnon, 1965; Herman & Hrischman, 1981). Both
Gagnon and Herman and Hirschman found that a relationship of long dura-
tion also increased the likelihood of trauma. According to Finkelhor,
children "feel worse about experiences that are intrinsically unpleasant"
(p. 144). Since most sexual contacts by adults are imposed on the child,
include psychological coercion or force, and evoke negative reactions
from the victims, it follows that the majority of children are ill
affected (Finkelhor, 1979).
Additionally, unpleasantness can be experienced by the child through
the reactions of others about her sexual abuse experience. Judgement or
lack of understanding by others about her incest involvement influences
the child's existing feelings which are usually ones of shame, guilt,
and feelings of isolation and inferiority.
Child victims of sexual abuse demonstrate as a group greater vul-
nerability to pathological development in later life, and an impressive
number suffer lasting harm (Herman & Hirschman, 1981). Child incest vic-
tims seem to show evidence of greater disturbance than those children
who are sexually abused by a stranger. Greater likelihood of trauma
exists for this special subgroup of sexual abuse victims.
Effects of childhood incest experience
As indicated, psychological harm is more likely for sexual abuse
cases involving family members. Kaufman, Peck, and Taguiri (1954) found
that the common clinical findings discovered in eleven private incest
clients seen at a Child Guidance Clinic in Massachusetts were guilt and
depression. Other symptoms ranged from physical complaints to self-
destructive masochistic tendencies. School problems such as learning
disabilities and family concerns such as fear of abandonment by parents
also were indicated.
Fear of abandonment by parents is a common finding, one that is
also noted by Lustig, Dresser, Spellman, and Murray (1966). In this
study of father-daughter incest, fear of desertion by both parents was
expressed as reason for a child's compliance with the sexual demands of
the father. Often, the daughter of incest assumes a mother's role in
the family due to the mother's absence or relinquishment of responsi-
bilities. As the child assumes many of the mother's functions, including
physical intimacy with father, she begins to understand her role as
valueless, self-sacrificing, and regretfully and unhappily a consequence
of being a daughter (Lustig et al., 1966). The young girl tends to see
boys as having more opportunity to be children. Child victims are
frequently described as mature beyond their years; Lustig et al.
view their behavior as pseudomature. Their needs as children remain
unsatisfied despite their precocious and responsible manner.
Serious repercussions from incest experience were predicted for
adolescent girls by Sloane and Karpinski (1942). They view the degree
of guilt derived from the incest experience as disastrous to the healthy
functioning of a child.
It is expected that the effects found in cases of childhood and
adolescent incest involvement affect later psychological adjustment.
The following studies will describe reported effects of incest on adult
psychological functioning. Since this is the focus of this research, a
more detailed account of findings will be reported.
Adult psychological functioning of women incest victims
Due to a need to understand the kinds of problems encountered by
adult women with previous childhood sexual abuse experience, Tsai and
Wagner (1978) studied fifty women who volunteered to participate in four
weekly or bi-weekly group therapy sessions. The subjects were mostly
white, middle class women with an average age of thirty. Thirty-one
percent of these women had experienced incest with their biological
fathers, and 17.5% with their stepfathers. Except for the fact that
12.7% of the experiences involved a stranger, all other molestation
experiences involved someone in their affinity system. The major com-
plaints of these victims were guilt, depression, shame, low self-esteem,
and sexual dysfunction.
Guilt was a symptom experienced by all participants. Three major
factors were identified as significantly related to their guilt experience.
First, the issue of secrecy and the burden of secrecy combined served as
major guilt inducing factors. Second, fear of the consequences result-
ing from disclosure of incest, if not the direct experience of those
consequences, created a feeling of guilt due to the victim's belief that
she was responsible for the possible disruption of the family. Third,
guilt feelings were engendered by the sometimes physically pleasant
sensations resulting from the incest aggressor's contact. The experience
of physically pleasant feelings is an area of particular conflict, for
the victim may find herself both offended by the incest aggressor's
approach and unexpectedly aroused and/or appreciative of his attention.
Tsai and Wagner also found that negative self-image and depression
are based on general feelings of inferiority. Feelings of devaluation
are seen as associated with the harboring of the incest secret, a factor
which also leads to feelings of isolation.
Some women reported behavioral patterns indicative of repetition
compulsion. A penchant for selecting abusive male companions or men who
they saw as inferior, unaffectionate, or like their abusive fathers were
Maladaptive sexual patterns were found for the majority of these
women. Sexual response was classified into three types: nonresponsee,"
"orgasmic without pleasure," and "arousal contingent upon control."
The nonresponsee" women had a pattern of no sexual arousal with a
partner, and even found lack of arousal during masturbation. Variations
in response from feeling "sexually dead," to actively avoiding sex, to
a repulsion of sexual topics characterized this group.
The "orgasmic without pleasure" group of women found feelings of
unpleasantness accompanied sexual activity. This was found to be com-
bined with a disinterested attitude in sex. According to Tsai and
These women have learned to be sexually responsive at
an early age, but the unpleasant associations they
experience with arousal inhibits a pleasurable response.
An active avoidance of a role of passive toleration was evident
for "arousal contingent upon control" group members. For some, sex was
arousing only if they were in control of the sexual activity. One sub-
ject was quoted as saying,
"I tried to make my father go away by being stiff;
therefore, my sex is much better when I initiate it,
am active and on top." (p. 423)
The subjects in this study showed a variety of sexual problems with
most women sharing the common experience of "flashbacks." During sexual
activity, thoughts referring to their incest experience are found to be
intrusive, and very often result in loss of arousal or interest. Feel-
ings generated at the time of flashbacks are not unlike that shared by
one woman who stated,
"When sexual experiences bring back associations with
my Dad, there's always this feeling of guilt, humili-
ation, anger, resentment, and bitterness." (p. 424)
A familiar theme for many victims of father-daughter incest is a
bitterness directed toward both parents, with the mother the target for
a considerable amount of anger. This seems to develop from the daughter's
feeling that the mother did not protect her from her father's sexual
advances. Evidence of a mother actively colluding with the father is
frequently found. Collusion ranges from a mother's active denial to
active encouragement of the incest activity. Many victims question their
mother's denial, for they feel many obvious indications of incest activity
An exhaustive attempt to study the long term effects of incest on
the adult psychological functioning of women was accomplished by Karin
Meiselman (1978), a psychologist in an outpatient clinic in Los Angeles.
Her study has particular merit in that she studied a large sample and
made use of a control group. Previous studies involving large samples
have not used this approach. Meiselman used for her sample therapy
patients with and without incest experience.
Upon seeking therapy, the incest victims had not had an incest con-
tact for at least three years, and most had never disclosed the experience.
Initial complaints or problems for which these clients were seeking help
did not center upon the incest experience. It was not evident to many
of these women until later how their incest history was related to
Meiselman discovered that the incest psychotherapy group was more
disturbed than the control group. Differences noted between groups were
helpful in characterizing women with incest experience. Some of the
major difficulties that characterize these women are explained below.
The number of initial complaints was found to be greater for the
incest group with 3.4 presenting problems and 2.5 for the control group.
Many symptoms were similar across groups (i.e., depression, anxiety, and
even suicide), although the incest group complained of additional con-
flicts with nuclear and extended family members.
When the number of previous psychiatric hospitalizations was com-
pared, 23% of the incest group and 14% of the control group had required
this type of in-patient care. Meiselman viewed this difference as
possibly due to chance since it was not dramatic, yet emphasized that
the difference was in the direction of greater disturbance in the incest
Through examination of the marital history of the incest group, it
was found that "greater marital instability and rejection of marriage
as a lifestyle" (p. 210) was evident. A high level of conflict was found
to exist with their adult heterosexual relationships, either through
avoidance or isolation from men to a series of marital and non-marital
relationships which proved unsatisfying. This type of personal history
was dramatically more apparent with the incest group than for the non-
Another notable difference between the two psychotherapy groups was
greater evidence of masochistic behavior on the part of the incest group
members. As defined in this study, masochism refers to "people who seek
out or passively tolerate relationships in which they are victimized"
(p. 212). This definition is unlike others which specifically refer to
sexual pleasure derived from pain. Twenty-three percent of the women in
the incest psychotherapy group and 10% of the women in the nonincest
psychotherapy group were identified as having masochistic tendencies.
The tendencies were of the nonsexual variety. The incest group particu-
larly seemed to endure relationships in which they were mistreated,
though did not seem to derive pleasure from this treatment and lacked
the necessary skills to avoid or terminate relationships when they
Overall, Meiselman concluded that psychotherapy patients with incest
experience seemed to show no difference from psychotherapy patients with-
out incest experience with respect to type of psychopathology. Rather,
the incest group was more disturbed, and more likely to have physical
complaints, and interpersonal and sexual difficulties.
Later, Meiselman (1980) compared Minnesota Multiphasic Personality
Inventory (MMPI) profiles of sixteen incest and sixteen nonincest psycho-
therapy patients to determine if differences existed for type of psycho-
pathology and sexual problems. The women were matched on the variable
of referring therapist, ethnic origin, age, and educational status.
The profile means for the two groups were similar, although, her
prediction that incest therapy clients would present a greater number of
sexual difficulties was supported.
The overall pattern of results suggests that, while
the report of incest may not be specifically linked
with any diagnostic category, it is associated with
the report of various kinds of sexual problems.
The extent to which early incest experience contributes to later
negative outcomes in adult adjustment may be best determined by the
victim herself. Tsai, Feldman-Summers, and Edgar (1979) recruited three
groups of women in their study of variables related to the differential
impact of child sexual molestation on the psychosexual functioning of
women. The three groups consisted of therapy clients who were seeking
assistance for reasons related to child sexual victimization, a non-
therapy group of women who had been sexually molested as children, had
never been involved in counseling, and who viewed themselves as well-
adjusted; and a therapy group of women who had no history of child moles-
tation (control group) and who were matched with the non-therapy molesta-
tion group on variables of age, marital status, and ethnicity.
These researchers were the first to systematically assess the
psychosexual functioning of adult women with early childhood sexual
molestation experience. Additionally, these researchers comprise a small
group of investigators who have begun using control groups in an effort
to provide more rigorous attempts at objectively evaluating already
A major contention on which Tsai et al.'s study is based is well
explained by this quote:
To the extent that molestation evokes fear or guilt
or other emotional reactions in the child, sexual
activity may acquire negative connotations suffi-
ciently strong to affect adult sexuality. (p. 408)
The notion that unpleasant feelings paired with sexual experience may
influence later sexual activity has been found to occur with later
sexual functioning of rape victims (Feldman-Summers, Gordon, & Meagher,
The goals of this study were to (a) assess differences between women
with molestation experience who sought out therapy with those women with
molestation experiences who did not seek therapy and (b) to assess dif-
ferences between women with molestation experience and those without
molestation experience in the area of prepubescent sexual activity with
peers and current psychosexual functioning.
The instruments used to assess these women included the MMPI, a
self-administered seven point scale measuring self-perceived overall
adjustment and a questionnaire aimed at collecting demographic informa-
tion and sexual history. The latter asked questions pertaining to three
different areas: variables related to molestation experience, prepubescent
sexual activity with peers, and current sexual functioning.
Two findings were seen as major in the comparison of these three
groups. The therapy molestation group was less well-adjusted than
either the non-therapy group who had never sought counseling or the group
of therapy clients who had never been molested. Additionally, the non-
therapy molestation group and the therapy molestation group differed
significantly on variables related to the molestation experience. Tsai
et al. (1979) determined that the differences found "provided a theo-
retically meaningful explanation of the observed adult adjustment dif-
ferences" (p. 414).
With respect to the MMPI measure, profiles for the non-therapy
molestation and therapy non-molestation groups were "normal." The MMPI
for the therapy-molestation group was an overall 4-8 configuration.
This configuration is interpreted by traditional standards (Dahlstrom,
Welsh, & Dahlstrom, 1972) as follows:
a) poor interpersonal relationships with family members
b) difficulties engendered by early feelings of distrust
c) inadequate social adjustment and lack of emotional
involvement with others
d) sexual acts are seen as vehicles for hostility and
e) poor self-concept
f) a pattern of selecting males with whom they feel
These characteristics corroborate findings of clinical observations of
women clients who have been sexually molested in childhood by family
members (Courtois, 1979; Finkelhor, 1979; Herman & Hirschman, 1981;
Meiselman, 1978). These findings also corroborate with the self-report
statements regarding the current sexual functioning of the therapy
molestation group. The therapy molestation group was significantly
different from the other two groups in overall sexual adjustment. Tsai
et al. (1979) indicate that the current sexual satisfaction of the
therapy molestation groups and the impact of early sexual molestation
upon the victim showed a pattern similar to the behavior of rape victims
several months after the attack.
The question of long term effects of early sexual molestation upon
the developing sexuality of young girls was addressed by James (1971),
and James and Myerding (1977). These investigators sought to determine
if early sexual experience was a factor related to prostitution. In the
process of their research, noteworthy information was brought to light
regarding early encounters by relatives for many of their subjects.
Sexual advances by older males was a specific area examined in this
study. In the course of the research, a surprising number of women
were found to have incest experience.
In James' first study (1971), he recruited 72 adult and 20 adoles-
cent female prostitutes. He made initial contact with these women
while they were in jail and arranged to interview those who volunteered
to participate after their release. Questionnaires and taped interviews
were used, with specific questions about sexual history asked of the
adolescents to discover reasons for their early entry into prostitution.
The average ages for the adult and adolescent groups was 22.6 and
16.9 years, respectively. Ethnicity for the adult group was the follow-
ing: White, 37%; Black, 56%; Indian, Mexican, and other, 7%. The
adolescent group represented the ethnic backgrounds of Whites (48%) and
In examining the relationship of the male perpetrator of sexual
contact to the young girl, James found that of the 20 adolescents 23%
had experienced sexual contact with their father and 15% with other
relatives. Sixty-five percent of the adolescents disclosed negative
sexual experience and a majority of this number were introduced to sex
before age fifteen.
Twenty-five percent of the total sample reported an unpleasant
sexual relationship with someone in their nuclear or extended family.
In examining the relationship of the male perpetrator to the young girl,
DeFrancis's (1969) data indicate that 27% of sexual offenders in sexual
abuse cases are father-figure types, and that a combined total of 38%
represent offenders who are relatives. These findings are also consistent
with those of Sgroi (1975) who remarks that most sexual offenders in child
sexual abuse cases are identified as a father, relative, or boyfriend of
In a later study, James and Meyerding (1977) followed the same
method for recruitment of subjects. One hundred thirty-eight women
agreed to participate in this study; 66 were identified as "addict pros-
titutes" and 70 were labeled "prostitutes." The major difference between
these two groups is that the "addict prostitute" group is documented as
having withdrawal from narcotic addiction during incarceration. This
large group of women were characterized as 64% White, with 61% of the
women coming from middle and upper-middle classes. The educational
standing of these women was shown to be "some high school education,
56%; some college education, 19%; and 6% educated above college level"
(p. 39). A "normal" group of women without histories of prostitution
were used for comparative purposes.
A description of some of the findings specific to sexual activity
and incest will be mentioned for the entire subject sample. Of the women
in the prostitute group, first intercourse experience was characterized
by force in 23% of the cases, and emotional coercion was evident in 7%
of the cases. Fifty-seven percent of the women had a history of rape,
with 36% of them falling to rape victimization more than once. Rape by
more than one man at one time was found in 8% of the rape reports.
Of considerable importance to first sexual intercourse is the type
of emotional relationship with the sexual partner. Thirty-four percent
of the women in this study had superficial, "nonemotionally charged"
relationships with the person with whom they experienced first inter-
course. The women in this study had an average of 23 sexual partners
separate from their prostitute experiences. The mean number of signifi-
cant sexual relationships was five.
Incest experience was evident in 25% of the cases. Father-daughter
was the type of relationship found in all reported incest cases. Since
subject selection was based on whether or not the woman was a prosti-
tute, James and Meyerding make special mention that
Our data indicate that father-daughter incest is an
experience more common to our sample populations than
to any other known populations not chosen on the
basis of incest or sexual abuse experience itself. (1977,
Others who comment on incest and its effects on later sexual be-
havior view incest as a precursor to promiscuity (Ferracuti, 1972;
Weiner, 1964). James and Meyerding raise the question of whether or not
incest experience may influence later entry into prostitution. Gagnon
(1965) emphasizes that the impact of incest is immediately disruptive
to the victim's development. This disruption is matched by disturbed
family relationships, family dissolutions, and affective disturbances.
The (incest) behavior and the reaction to the be-
havior become significant disorganizing factors in
her development of sexual identity. (p. 39)
The general findings based on comparisons between the prostitute
and the "normal" groups are enumerated below. The prostitutes as a
group tended to
1) Learn less about sex from parents and more from
2) As children, experienced more sexual advances by
3) Were more often involved in incestuous relationships
with their father
4) Generally initiated sexual activity at a younger age
5) More often had no further relationship with coital
6) Experienced a higher incidence of rape. (p. 37)
Many studies involving sexual abuse cases use samples referred
from social and legal authorities which are well known for primarily
dealing with the lower socioeconomic classes. An important finding in
the present study is support for the contention that incest crosses all
socioeconomic boundaries, with middle and upper-middle class women well
represented in the incest subgroup of prostitutes. These data also
align with that of other researchers (Finkelhor, 1979; Forward & Buck,
1978; Geiser, 1979; Herman & Hirschman, 1981; Meiselman, 1978). Finkel-
hor states that incest "cannot be explained as a lower class phenomenon"
A cause and effect relationship between incest and promiscuity can-
not be concluded from this study. However, James and Meyerding (1977)
suggest that "early traumatic sexual self-objectification may be one
factor influencing some women toward entrance into prostitution and
other 'deviant lifestyles'" (p. 40). And further,
that to be used sexually at an early age in a way that
produces guilt, shame, and loss of self-esteem on the
part of the victim would be likely to lessen one's
resistance to viewing oneself as a salable commodity.
In addition to a high incidence of incest victims in this sample of
prostitutes, "childhood sexual abuse has also been implicated in the
histories of battered women and adolescent runaways" (Herman & Hirschman,
1981, p. 30). Judson Landis (1956) found in his study of girls that had
run away from home before age sixteen that 52% of 118 subjects had
experienced incest. Rainbow Retreat, a helping agency for battered women
in Phoenix, Arizona, reported that 23% of the women they cared for had
incest experience prior to age fifteen (Herman & Hirschman, 1981). In
Herman and Hirschman's study of father-daughter incest, 32.5% of a 40
subject sample had attempted escape from incestuous experience by running
away at least one time. Thirty-five percent of this same sample had
described themselves as promiscuous.
The reaction patterns of running away, engaging in promiscuous
behavior, prostitution, and becoming involved in abusive relationships
(i.e., battering) are becoming familiar characteristics of incest popu-
lations. The high incidence of incest victims among rape victim popu-
lations has pointed out the tendency for women with incest experience to
become involved in repeated victimizations. Carney Landis (1940) found
that 35% of the rape victims participating in a rape relief group in
Tacoma, Washington, were incest victims. At a rape crisis center in
Albuquerque, New Mexico, 18% of the women who had experienced rape twice
had histories of incest experience (Miller, Moeller, Kauffman,Divasto,
Pathak, & Christ, 1978). It is interpreted from findings such as these
that women with early sexual abuse experience may not learn necessary
mechanisms of self-protection and thus increase the likelihood of re-
peated victimizations (Herman & Hirschman, 1981; Meiselman, 1978).
The most recent data on the characteristic behavior patterns and
adult psychological functioning of incest victims is that of Herman and
Hirschman's (1981) research on father-daughter incest. These psycho-
therapists completed a clinical study using an interview method for two
groups of women. One group consisted of forty victims of overt incest,
and the other was comprised of twenty women without histories of overt
incest but who had seductive relationships with their fathers (overt
incest). In assessing the specific long term consequences of incest
activity and the degree of harmfulness of overt and covert incest, Herman
and Hirschman concluded that
the pathological effects of overt and covert incest
were similar in nature and differed mainly in degree,
the daughters of the seductive fathers exhibiting in
milder form many of the same symptoms that in the in-
cest victims were developed to great severity. (p. 125)
Since the focus of this research is overt incestuous activity, detailed
attention will only be given to the women in the overt incest group.
Some of the pathological effects referred to above will be identified
and in the course of their descriptions, it can be noted that a remarkable
consistency with the long term psychological effects reported by these
researchers and with other studies so far reviewed exists. Prior to
information about the long term psychological effects, important charac-
teristics of the sample and their family constellations will be high-
The women in this study encompassed the age range of the early
twenties to the mid-thirties. Half of the women were mothers and were
involved in a variety of stereotypically female professions. These
women nearly equally represented two socioeconomic groups: the working
and middle-classes. Catholicism was the primary religious orientation,
and all were White. Herman and Hirschman (1981) note, "To all appear-
ances, they were an ordinary group of women" (p. 67), from Boston,
The incest definition used for this study was psychologically based.
This type of definition holds that the relationship between child and
parent is primary, and a need for blood relatedness is not essential.
A sexual relationship was defined as any contact that required secrecy.
Among the forty overt incest subjects, 78% (31) involved the biological
father, five involved stepfathers, and four, adoptive fathers.
The women as a group came from conventional families characterized
by financial security. They were religious families and portrayed an
air of respectability to the community. The fathers were described as
"perfect patriarchs" and weilded power and control over the family's
participation in social events, particularly limiting the exposure of
the women in the family.
Approximately 75% of the fathers were the sole financial provider
and were described as competent in both job related responsibilities and
Two policemen, three military officers, two physicians,
and two college professors were included in their
number, as well as an assortment of businessmen, store-
keepers and skilled tradesmen. (p. 72)
One of the salient characteristics of the incest fathers was "their
tendency to dominate their families by the use of force" (p. 73).
The majority of the mothers fulfilled the traditional role expecta-
tions associated with that of housekeeper. These women were completely
dependent on their husbands for financial security. Independent survival
was not possible for the mothers as a group due to a lack of marketable
skills. Three of the mothers had full time and six had part time employ-
ment. The mothers were described as having inferior status in comparison
to their husbands, and both husband and wife upheld rigidly defined
roles that maintained the father's superiority. The ability to fulfill
the demands of primary housekeeper were often not met by a majority of
Over half (55%) remembered that their mothers had had
periods of disabling illness which resulted in fre-
quent hospitalizations or in the mother's living as
an invalid at home. (p. 77)
Separation from mother was experienced by over a third of the women
through their mother's temporary incapability to care for them. "De-
pression, alcoholism, and psychosis were among the most common causes
of the mother's disability" (p. 77).
The women in the sample were found to be either the oldest daughter
or the only child in 80% of the cases. This is similar to the findings
of other researchers (Weinberg, 1955; Tormes, 1978; Meiselman, 1978).
Forty-five percent of these victims had assumed many of the mother's
responsibilities by age ten, including child care.
Many became astonishingly competent in their role.
Pride in their accomplishments as little adults became
their compensation for loss of childhood. (Herman &
Hirschman, 1981, p. 79)
This loss of childhood or pseudomaturity was also noted by Lustig et al.
These daughters also felt a great sense of responsibility for main-
taining family balance and integrity in combination with a sharp aware-
ness of parental conflict. Several daughters wished for their parents'
divorce, but most feared this outcome and the abandonment promised by
such a family disruption. Fear of abandonment is a condition found to
be consistent with the findings of other investigators (Kauffman, Peck,
& Taiguiri, 1954; Lustig et al., 1966).
The daughter's relationship with the mother was often marked by
hostility, contempt, and bitterness. Generally, these women felt their
mothers lacked nurturant ability.
In their moments of despair, these daughters felt the
absence of the most primary bonds of caring and trust.
These daughters, in short, were alienated from their
mothers, whom they saw as weak, helpless, and unable
to nurture or protect them. (p. 83)
Eighty percent of the daughters had experienced sexual approaches
from their fathers prior to age thirteen, with the average age for sexual
approach by their fathers calculated to be age nine. Sexual experience
was gradual, beginning with fondling, followed by masturbation, and oral-
genital activity. Sexual intercourse did not occur in most cases, and
if it did happen it was not attempted until the daughter had reached
puberty. Force was usually not necessary, although coercion was evident
and had been since the inception of the relationship.
The average duration of the incest relationship was three years.
These data are also corroborated by others (Kauffman, Peck, & Taguiri, 1954;
Lukianowicz, 1972; Maisch, 1972; Tormes, 1978; Weinberg, 1955). Once
incest had been initiated, the women recalled that the father seized
every opportunity available to make sexual contact.
The commonly found furtive attitude of the father communicates that
something is wrong about the relationship.
Few of the daughters had anything positive to say about
the sexual contact itself. Though many enjoyed other
aspects of their special relationships with their
fathers, most dreaded the sexual encounters and in-
vented whatever pitiful strategies they could to avoid
them. (Herman & Hirschman, 1981, p. 86)
Usually the women felt shame, disgust, and fear, with many of the
daughters claiming that they assumed an emotional detachment when sexual
contact occurred. Even when physically pleasant sensations occurred,
the women reported confused feelings and felt intense shame.
All the women in Herman and Hirschman's sample indicated that the
father had never initiated termination of the relationship. Either the
daughter did so through various forms of resistance, or she finally
escaped through a normal and eventual departure from family, or through
running away, or premature separation (early marriage, foster placement,
admission to residential schools, or temporary psychiatric hospitali-
Overwhelming consistency is found for the type of complaints made
by these women. The subjects made their own association with how the
incest experience shaped their lives. These women reported feeling
"different." Somehow their participation in incest marked them for
life, and many saw themselves as evil. Self derogatory names such as
whore, bitch, and witch were part of their self-claimed identifies.
Many women made an explicit connection between the
feelings of isolation and the incest secret. (Her-
man & Hirschman, 1981, p. 97)
The incest secret formed the core of their identity.
(Herman & Hirschman, 1981, p. 97)
Major depressive symptoms were apparent in 60% of the sample, and
of these, 38% had attempted suicide. Alcoholism and/or drug dependency
problems were found for 20% of the group.
Difficulties also existed in the area of interpersonal relation-
ships. Feelings of isolation were exacerbated by an inability to form
trusting relationships. The early experience of betrayal through incest
engendered expectations that trusting, intimate relationships are not
possible. The knowledge that loved ones not only have the potential to
exploit, but demonstrate their power, through incest seems to interfere
with the development of satisfying relationships.
Promiscuous activity, found for 35% of the women, was explained a
couple of ways. Some pursued sexual relationships to achieve closeness,
and others felt that they were not useful for anything else but sex.
These women experienced marital difficulties with 63% marrying at
least one time. Eleven of the 40 women endured physical assaults from
their husbands or lovers.
As a group, these women tended to idealize and admire men, and in
contrast, felt contempt for women, including themselves. When regarding
their special relationships with their fathers, some of the women felt
that the only self-esteem they had had was gained through association
with their powerful fathers. More usually and fundamentally, they iden-
tified with their mother's low status and were filled with self-loathing.
A small number of the women in this sample had experimented with
lesbian relationships. The apparent motivation for this type of rela-
tionship was based on a need to have female nurturance without fear of
exploitation. Meiselman (1978) found over a third of her 58 incest sub-
jects assumed a lesbian identity for similar reasons. For several of
the women in Herman & Hirschman's (1981) sample, a lesbian identity was
viewed by the victims as an "adaptive and positive way to come to terms
with incest trauma" (p. 105). These findings do not provide evidence of
a cause and effect relationship between incest and lesbianism.
Also, like Meiselman's (1978) findings, difficulties in the area of
sexual functioning were experienced by a majority of the women (55%).
Minimal pleasure, if it at all occurred, was reported. Remembrances of
sexual activity with their father (flashbacks) during sexual activity
interfered with enjoyment. Some who found themselves unable to relax
during sexual involvement found sex to be synonymous with being dominated
or controlled; consequently, sex was tension producing.
As can be readily ascertained, the description of the adult psycho-
logical functioning of women incest victims reported in these studies is
remarkably consistent. This consistency serves to validate those find-
ings that detail the difficulties encountered by incest victims in later
life. The adult women with a history of incest experience are potentially
more vulnerable to adult adjustment difficulties in comparison to other
women. Both personal and interpersonal domains are marked by psychological
Guilt Disposition and Self-Concept
The importance of guilt and disturbed self-concept as major symptoms
characteristic of adult women incest victims has been noted earlier in
this study. The following is an explanation of the dependent variable,
guilt disposition, as it will be referred to and applied in this study.
In the process of explaining guilt disposition, the important relationship
between guilt and the dependent variable self-concept emerges.
The disposition of guilt is a generalized expectancy
for self-mediated punishment for violating or antici-
pating violating internalized standards of moral be-
havior and is thus a cognitive disposition. (Mosher,
1979, p. 106)
Mosher distinguishes between guilt as a personality disposition and guilt
as an affective state. Mosher explains guilt as a cognitive disposition
by using the psychological terms "trait guilt" and "state guilt."
"Trait guilt" is a personality disposition. This means that a per-
son's perception and response to a class of situations that involve moral
issues in which self and the behavior of self are compared to an inter-
nalized moral code are consistent. Through time and across situations
(transsituational),a person will develop a consistent approach to deal
with morally conflicting issues (Mosher, 1979).
"State guilt" is an affective condition. This is the experience
of guilt feelings following the violation of one's internalized moral
code. Guilt feeling then "is a response to a specific moral violation
in a specific situation" (Mosher, 1979, p. 107).
The intention of this research is to measure the cognitive dis-
position which is considered to be more inclusive than the affective
state of guilt (Mosher, 1979). The consistent behavioral pattern of
the personality disposition "has become organized as a function of the
person's history in similar past situations" (Mosher, 1979, p. 105).
The individual develops a predisposition based on past experience and
approaches new situations with a cognitive set comprised of personal
Guilt disposition as it relates to the incest victim can be under-
stood in terms of two factors: moral development and stimulus generaliza-
tion. Previous attention has been given regarding the role of moral
development and guilt. To briefly recapitulate, a child's development
of an internalized moral code is a gradual sequence, with issues of
"right" and "wrong" first learned from parents, followed by the develop-
ment of a personalized code of ethics through exposure and comparison
of one's values with those influences outside of the family. Moral
development is affected by trauma inducing experiences (Coleman, 1964).
It follows that incest trauma affects moral development.
Stimulus generalization is important in that the early experiences
involving moral issues become paired with negative feeling states, one
of which is guilt and leads to self-devaluation. If circumstances are
traumatic then the emotional responses stemming from these morally re-
lated experiences may generalize to other objects, events, and persons
If, in the experience, the individual feels acutely
inadequate or guilts--as in certain cases of sexual
assault where the person is too frightened to resist--
his self-concept may undergo considerable devaluation.
Hence a traumatic experience may continue to influence
behavior long after the original event. (Coleman,
1964, p. 139)
Extrapolating from this, the incest victim's acquaintance with the
issue of secrecy and perhaps an already acquired notion of the incest
taboo, may evoke the emotional response of guilt and concommitant
feelings of devaluation. If a child is traumatized by the early in-
cestuous encounter, the pairing of emotional content (guilt) with the
sexual activity becomes a circumstance of emotional conditioning.
Emotional conditioning derived from traumatic situations is more
impactful and surpasses other responses such as those learned through
reasoning and problem solving (Mowrer, 1950). Mowrer indicates that
repetition or a similar situation reactivates the emotional response as
opposed to stimulating a consciously formulated response gained through
reasoning. The latter type are more subject to modification and more
likely to be adaptive. The former, emotional conditioning, is more
resistent to change. Coleman (1964) points out that emotional responses
to traumatic events are easy to condition and readily generalizable.
Emotional conditioning is not easily modified and can lead to maladap-
tive adjustment if not altered. "Thus, when a child is exposed to re-
peated early traumas, their net effect may be highly pathogenic" (Coleman,
1964, p. 140).
Early trauma has particularly far reaching consequences for a young
child. The young child is not equipped with skills of reflection,
critical evaluation, and self-defense like the adult, and is therefore
more vulnerable (Coleman, 1964) and at higher risk for psychological
damage. It seems plausible that due to an inability to comprehend and
defend oneself, the child's experience with the guilt inducing properties
of the incest situation could be devastating. If harmful effects are not
immediately evident, it is thought that they will be later in the course
of the child's development (Meiselman, 1978).
Mosher identified three dimensions of guilt that seem to be highly
relevant areas in need of investigation for incest victims. These areas
are measured by the subscales sex-guilt (SG), hostility-guilt (HG), and
morality-conscience (MC) (see Definition of Terms, Chapter I). The
incest victim commonly identifies guilt as a feeling specifically derived
from several major factors related to the incest experience and which
involve all three dimensions above. This makes sense in that
The construct of guilt is a major component of con-
flict over sexual and aggressive actions and fan-
tasies. (Mosher, 1979, p. 106)
And this is not surprising because
In our society many social prohibitions and highly
emotional moral attitudes center around the expres-
sion of hostility and sexual desires. (Coleman, 1964,
The factors to be identified represent the common moral conflicts
of the human experience. The first factor significantly relates to the
inducement of guilt with the moral conflict of the sexual experience
itself. The second factor is the development of angry feelings at self,
toward the incest aggressor, and toward others who the victim sees as
contributing directly or indirectly to her victimization. As noted
earlier in the case of father-daughter incest, the daughter is not only
angry with her father for betraying her trust but is frequently angry at
the mother for not providing adequate protection from the father (Finkel-
hor, 1979; Forward & Buck, 1978; Herman & Hirschman, 1981; Justice &
Justice, 1979). A third factor is the growing consciousness that the
incest activity is morally wrong.
These factors establish a situation that is replete with guilt
inducing stimuli. The incest situation provides a stage for a child's
maladaptive development in that a predominant emotionally negative
response of guilt is engendered by sexual victimization and continually
exacerbated by repeated incest activity. This creates a series of
emotionally conditioning situations that will generalize to other ob-
jects, events, and people in her life as indicated earlier.
The ease of formulation (emotional conditioning of
negative responses), tendency to generalize and
extreme durability of emotional responses stemming
from traumatic situation all tend to make them
maladaptive. (Coleman, 1964, p. 140)
Consequently, the child's vulnerability to psychological difficulty,
both immediate and in later life, is seen as greater (Coleman, 1964).
The sexual victimization of the child is usually an alienating
experience, for usual outlets for support (i.e., parents and other
family members), understanding, and aid in comprehending a confusing
world are not available. This leads to resolution of conflict on her
own, a circumstance that will have a greater probability of psychological
risk (Tsai et al., 1979). Meiselman (1979) reports that these conflicts
are particularly apparent in the area of sexual adjustment. As Meisel-
man notes (1978),
There seems little doubt the incest had created
unresolved conflicts in these women that tended
to be aroused in later sexual situations. (p. 235)
Based on Mosher's theory of guilt disposition, the child's approach
to resolving morally conflicting issues in childhood will develop a
consistency that will be transsituational. Across all morally conflict-
ing situations, the child will bring with her a personal code of ethics
based on similar past experiences and it may be anticipated that she
will resolve conflict in a similar fashion. Her approach is expected
to be more maladaptive than if she had been able to obtain help from
a significant other and probably more maladaptive than someone without
childhood incest experience.
The Mosher Guilt Forced-Choice Inventory
The Mosher Guilt Forced-Choice Inventory (NGFCI) is a later modifi-
cation of the Mosher Incomplete Sentences Test (MIST), an instrument
Mosher developed in 1961. His intent was to provide an instrument that
would measure quantitatively and qualitatively guilt disposition (Mosher,
1961). Early investigations of the inventory's construct validity were
mostly based on male populations. It was not until 1968 that Mosher
developed a female form (Form F).
Meanwhile, the original MIST had been modified to forced-choice
and true-false sentence completion formats with consequent improvement
in the psychometric properties of the test. Mosher achieved his aim of
constructing a measure of guilt disposition in males that was reliable
and for which outstanding construct, convergent and discriminant validity
has been demonstrated (Abramson & Mosher, 1975; Abramson, Mosher,
Abramson, & Woychowski, 1977; Fehr & Stamps, 1979; O'Grady & Janda,
1978; Persons, 1970a). This instrument has also demonstrated predictive
validity (Griffit & Kaiser, 1978; Janda, Magri, & Barnhart, 1977; Per-
The female form (Form F) was developed in much the same manner as
its forerunner. From a large pool of item stems from the MIST, an
analysis of internal consistency and social desirability rating to assess
response bias were applied for the appropriate selection of inventory
items. Following this, the instrument was administered to 62 University
of Connecticut undergraduate students.
Intercorrelations were analyzed using a multi-trait multi-method
matrix and factor analysis to determine convergent and discriminant
validity. The instrument provided support for the three subscales as
indices of the three aspects of guilt disposition for females (Mosher,
1968). Convergent validity was not sufficiently supported, and a social
desirability response bias was not evident.
Several of the studies helpful to the validation of the MGFCI since
1961 and prior to the development of Form F in 1968 will be briefly dis-
cussed. Greater emphasis will be given to those investigations that have
occurred since the development of the female form.
The MGFCI was used by Persons (1970b) to compare differences in
guilt disposition between male college students (n = 338) and reformitory
inmates (n = 524), and in particular to provide further evidence of guilt
as an independent construct of personality. The mean age of the subjects
was 19.01 with a range of 17-22 years of age. For this purpose, the
MMPI, which had been previously used in a correlational study with the
MGFCI and for which support was found for the notion of guilt as an
inhibitor (Mosher & Oliver, 1968), was selected. Positive correlations
were found between guilt and the MMPI scale for inhibition and a negative
correlation was found for guilt and the MMPI scales referring to acting-
out behaviors. Evidence for guilt as an inhibitor was supported in this
study, and construct validation was demonstrated.
Other studies using inmates as subjects found higher guilt levels
among inmates who commit property crimes than for those who commit
violations against persons (Mosher & Mosher, 1966). The amount of
inmate crimes has also been found to be negatively correlated with the
MGFCI (Persons, 1970a). Predictive validity has been demonstrated with
regard to the HG and SG subscales for inmates. Correlations between HG
and crimes of violence and SG and sexual offenses showed significant
relationships (Persons, 1970a).
Major findings were reported by Abramson, Mosher, Abramson, and
Woychowski in 1977. These researchers set out to examine not only the
reltaionships between traditional personality variables and guilt, but
the relative independence of the guilt scales from theoretically relevant
variables. The Edwards Personal Preference Schedule (EPPS) (Edwards,
1959) and the MGFCI were administered to 108 males and 41 female
psychology undergraduates at the University of Connecticut. Pearson
product-moment correlations were applied to all subscales. Convergent
validity was supported, indicating relative independence and lack of
redundancy between the subscales.
Gender differences were noted and suggested as meaningful for the
SG and HG subscales. A preference for platonic relationships, a lack
of interest in heterosexual contact, combined with a nonpersistence and
distractability in the work place were characteristic of high hostility
guilt males. Women high in hostility guilt showed greater persistence
with work, conformance, and also lacked interest in heterosexual contact.
These differences were presumed to be gender-linked and interpreted
within the context of socio-cultural training.
A conventional personality style emerged for both males and females
on the MC subscale with conformance, friendliness, low interest in
heterosexual contact, and a need for nurturance as major characteristics.
Less need for aggression was found with high guilt males and females. It
appears from these data that individuals who feel guilt over expression
of hostility also have a reduced need for aggression. Overall results
showed evidence of construct and discriminant validity for the three
The results from this study and that completed by Persons (1970a)
established a promising beginning for further investigations involving
theoretically relevant variables, as well as providing additional strength
for the MGFCI. Further studies using theoretically relevant personality
variables were again recommended by Abramson et al. (1977) to further
corroborate existing evidence of that kind.
This need was addressed by Fehr and Stamps in 1979. They employed
five different personality instruments that satisfied the necessary
theoretical relevance. Sixty female undergraduate students at the Uni-
versity of New Orleans were randomly administered a battery of personality
instruments to test the relationship of the following variables: reli-
gious orthodoxy, anxiety, hostility, self-esteem, and the importance of
religious and economic values in one's life (Fehr & Stamps, 1979).
The Thouless Test of Religious Orthodoxy (Brown, 1962) was selected
to determine the overall ability of the Mosher subscales to measure the
construct of guilt. This test was based on the notion of guilt as a
major theme of most Western religious philosophies. The validity of the
HG subscale was tested using the Manifest Hostility Scale Questionnaire
According to Mosher's theory of guilt and self-esteem, individuals
with high guilt are more likely to lack self confidence for their own
ideas and decisions. This leads to increased anxiety and lowered self-
esteem. Consequently, Fehr and Stamps (1979) included the Coopersmith
Self Esteem Inventory (Coopersmith, 1967), and the IPAT Anxiety Scale
Questionnaire (Cattel & Scheier, 1963) to assess the role of these variables
Economic values are presumed as opposite to religious values. The
Test of Economic Values served as a contrast to the religious-orthodoxy
measure. Positive correlations were expected between the religious
measure and the MGFCI.
Another investigation correlated the MGFCI subscales with the vari-
able of religion using an instrument that was seen as quite divergent
from the Thouless Test of Religious-Orthodoxy (Fehr & Heintzelman, 1977).
A positive correlation has been found between the guilt and religious
measure. If these same findings occurred in the Fehr and Stamps investi-
gation, then the MGFCI would be seen as a sensitive scale for the measure-
ment of the construct of guilt disposition.
Negative correlations were anticipated between the MGFCI and the
study of economic values variable. All anticipated outcomes for all
variables occurred and construct validity of the MGFCI subscales was
again supported. Important to this investigation was the establishment
of the Mosher Guilt Scale as a relevant instrument with no problem asso-
ciated with redundancy between the subscales.
O'Grady and Janda (1978) investigated the relationship of the
MGFCI with the following measures: the Repression-Sensitization Scale
(R-S); the California F Scale (F); the Adult Norwicki-Strickland Locus
of Control Scale (I-E); the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI), A-
Trait Form; and the Marlowe-Crowne Social Desirability Scale (M-GSDS).
All instruments were administered in random fashion to 101 male and 135
female undergraduate students in psychology. The important findings
derived from this study were that the construct validity of the three
subscales was once again supported, and the construct of guilt was estab-
lished as different from the constructs of anxiety and authoritarianism.
O'Grady and Janda (1978) also found that female responses on the male
version of the MGFCI were generally lower than for males. The inspection
of correlations for male and female responses showed evidence of a pos-
sible dissimilarity in the measurement of guilt disposition for the
In an effort to examine the conceptualizations of guilt as advanced
by Mosher (1965) and Galbraith (1968), the nature of an individual's
response to censured or non-censured situations involving sexually rele-
vant stimuli was measured in two separate experiments (Janda & O'Grady,
Mosher's concept of guilt is drawn from social learning theory.
Based on this theory, high guilt individuals have a greater tendency to
inhibit sexual responses due to a well developed internal set of moral
standards (Mosher, 1965). Galbraith's concept of guilt is based on the
contention that aversive conditioning and early experiences with sexual
issues will inhibit sexual responses. Within this context, high guilt
and low guilt individuals would be expected to change their behavior in
anonymous, non-aversive, and non-censured conditions. This is not so
with the social learning approach to behavioral inhibition. Low guilt,
and not high guilt, individuals would alter their sexual response in a
In both experiments, Janda and O'Grady randomly assigned women
undergraduates who had scored either high or low on the MGFCI into one
of two experimental conditions. Response to sexually relevant stimulus
words was measured using the Word Association Test (Galbraith & Mosher,
1968) along with the variables of affective guilt (Perceived Guilt Index)
(Otterbacher & Munz, 1973) and psychological stress (Subjective Stress
Scale) (Berkun, Kialek, Kern, & Yagi, 1962).
In both experiments, a male experimenter presented the Word
Association Test stimulus words verbally. In the censured condition,
women subjects were instructed to respond verbally to the test; in the
non-censured condition, subjects were instructed to make written
Using a 2 x 2 analysis of variance, it was discovered that high
guilt women were less likely than low guilt women to make sexual respon-
ses, and that more sexual responses were made in the non-censured con-
dition. The low guilt women in the non-censured condition made more
sexual responses than any of the other conditions.
Experiment two was a modification upon the non-censured condition
by (a) guaranteeing anonymity to subjects and (b) exposing subjects to
the experimenter only half of the test time. Again, undergraduate
psychology students (N = 40) were assigned to one of two experimental
conditions as in experiment one. A 2 x 2 analysis of variance for sexual
responses to the Word Association Test indicated that high guilt women
made less sexual responses than low guilt women. The absence of the
experimenter resulted in a greater number of sexual responses than when
present. Of the four conditions, low guilt women made more of the sexual
responses in the absence of the experimenter.
Both experiments demonstrated that women with high guilt were less
affected by reduced external censure. This lent support to Mosher's
social learning approach as it relates to self-esteem. Low guilt women
had a greater number of sexual responses across all conditions with
anonymity with written response modality responsible for eliciting the
highest rate of sexual responses. The only significant effect pertaining
to affective guilt and stress measures was that anxiety was higher for
all subjects when the experimenter was present during experiment
These studies have reported evidence of the MGFCI's construct,
convergent, discriminant, and predictive validity. They have included
numerous theoretically relevant variables as measured by objective
instruments which estimate the sensitivity and breadth of this instru-
ment's psychometric claims. The following studies will address other
findings based on the Mosher Guilt Scale that are unrelated to efforts
to demonstrate the psychometric soundness of the scale. Major conclu-
sions will be briefly discussed.
In a study aimed at investigating sexual arousal and emotional
response patterns for women (Mosher & White, 1980), 100 college females
were administered the sex-guilt subscale of the MGS in conjunction with
other assessment tools. The hypothesis that
higher sex-guilt was associated with attenuated
sexual arousal and reduced enjoyment and increased
frequencies and/or intensities of guilt, shame, dis-
tress, fear, surprise, disgust, anger, and contempt
in response to erotic imagery. . (p. 273)
was supported. Women who score high on the sex-guilt subscale tend to
have conventional moral standards (D'Augelli & Cross, 1975), and are more
likely to view casual sex as wrong (Mendelson & Mosher, 1979). Langston
(1973) studied the relationship between sex-guilt and sexual behavior and
found that higher levels of sex-guilt were found for religiously active
college students as opposed to religiously inactive students. Langston
(1973) also concluded that high guilt females showed a preference for G
and GP rated movies while R and X rated movies were preferred by low
Low sex guilt women gave more sexual responses to double-entendre
word-association stimuli (i.e., rubber, snatch) than high sex-guilt males
(Galbraith, Kahn, & Leiberman, 1968; Galbraith & Mosher, 1968). High
sex-guilt subjects are found to rate sexual cartoons as humorous and fun
following sexual arousal to attenuate discomfort (Lamb, 1968). Mosher
and Cross (1971) found evidence that sexual experience before marriage
was negatively correlated with sex guilt. They also found that intimate
sexual contact is less likely to occur for both men and women college
students who respond with guilt over sex.
High and low sex-guilt females differed on their moral beliefs when
explanation for nonparticipation in sexual behavior were examined
(Mosher & Cross, 1971). This was also consistent for male subjects,
although, more reasons were reported by males for nonparticipation in
intimate sexual contact (i.e., respect, fear of pregnancy, and disease).
The relationship between affective guilt and dispositional guilt
was studied by Mosher and Greenberg (1968). These investigators found
that after exposure to erotic material, women higher in affective guilt
were also high in dispositional guilt. Janda, Magri, and Barnhart (1977)
studied female affective guilt states using the MGS. In response to a
word association test, more sexual responses were given by women low in
dispositional guilt than high guilt. This information supports that of
Galbraith (1968) and Mosher (1965) whose findings indicate that sexual
response is inhibited for high dispositional guilt subjects.
"A substantial amount of research has shown that those high in the
dispositional trait of sex-guilt respond with more negative affect to
visual stimuli than do those low in sex-guilt" (Griffit & Kaiser, 1978,
p. 852). These investigators interpreted this to mean that erotic
stimuli serve as a reward to low guilt individuals and a punishment for
high dispositional guilt subjects, a hypothesis supported by Griffit and
Kaiser's (1978) research.
High guilt individuals demonstrate high levels of anxiety following
transgression of personal standards (Mosher & Greenberg, 1968; Schill &
Chapin, 1972). High sex-guilt subjects are found to have insufficient
recall of personal data related to sexual behavior (Galbraith & Mosher,
1968; Langston, 1973; Schwartz, 1973), to judge explicit and nontraditional
sexual behavior as negative (Mosher, 1973; Ray & Walker, 1973), and to
experience increased guilt levels following introductions to sexually
stimulating material (Mosher & Greenberg, 1968; Schill & Chapin, 1972).
Moreault and Follingshead (1973) reported in their investigation of
female sexual fantasies that high sex-guilt subjects had fewer explicit
sexual fantasies, fewer sexual fantasies, and ones of shorter duration
than low sex-guilt subjects. Themes involving sexual dominance and
fantasies of being irresistible to men were associated with high sex-
guilt females. This finding is thought to explain a need to relinquish
responsibility for sexual behavior on the part of high guilt women
(Moreault & Follingshead, 1973). High guilt female fantasies more often
involved imaginary lovers rather than real lovers as was the case with
low sex-guilt women.
Women's premarital sexual behavior is found to relate to moral
philosophy and dispositional guilt (D'Augelli & Cross, 1973). Using
Kohlberg's Moral Dilemmas Questionnaire, college women high in guilt
were oriented at the Law and Order stage and tended to be virgins. "Less
guilt was associated with increasing liberality of sexual philosophy"
(D'Augelli & Cross, 1973, p. 43). Those women who had more liberal
philosophies more often became involved in sexual relationships through
mutual, contractual interpersonal arrangements. A good interpersonal
relationship was necessary to their sexual involvement. Women who were
found to engage in sex as a means of achieving intimacy established more
superficial relationships combined with a focus on what "could be gained
from her partner" (D'Augelli & Cross, 1973, p. 43). High guilt women
saw premarital intercourse as socially unacceptable and disapproved of
other forms of intimate sexual expression.
In another experiment by D'Augelli and Cross (1973), couples were
examined in terms of moral philosophy, sexual behavior, and sex-guilt.
"Sex-guilt was found to be significantly associated with sexual experience
and moral reasoning for men and for couples"(p. 46). Couples high in
sex-guilt were found to use a law and order philosophy. Also, sex-guilt
and the previous sexual experience of both partners affected current
sexual activity. The moral reasoning of women was found to be influenced
by their male counterparts.
This review of findings for the Mosher Guilt Scale has shown evi-
dence of its acceptability as a valid instrument. Further, theoretical
interpretations made by numerous researchers about low and high guilt
dispositional states for both men and women have been discussed.
The relevance of guilt disposition to the study of incest has been
previously explained. Guilt disposition, as measured by the MGFCI, is
pertinent in situations where temptation to violate moral standards is
present (Mosher, 1968). Women with high guilt are more likely to inhibit
expression of aggressive or sexual behaviors. If a high guilt woman
transgresses her internalized moral code,
she is expected to experience guilt feelings, or to
confess, or to punish herself, or to make restitu-
tion. (Mosher, 1968, p. 695)
An incest victim is confronted at a tender age with a complex moral
dilemma engendered by both the secrecy of the incest relationship and
the incest taboo itself. Usual outlets for disclosure are generally
unavailable within the family. Her self-punishment may become manifest
through self-destructive, often masochistic, tendencies. As Judith
Herman (1981) notes about the women incest psychotherapy clients she
In their own flesh, they bore repeated punishment
for crimes committed against them in childhood.
This review presents a historical, theoretical, and socio-political
discussion of incest. Particular attention is given to studies that
describe the impact of incest upon the psychological functioning of
women. Among the negative psychological sequelae experienced by women
with incest histories, problems with guilt and self-concept predominate.
This review emphasizes the importance of guilt disposition as it relates
to the moral dilemma associated with the violation of the incest taboo
and the extent to which guilt can damage self-concept. Based on the
reported findings, an examination of various dimensions of guilt dis-
position and self-concept with respect to women victims of incest is
This research was designed to gather more information on the adult
psychological functioning of women incest victims. Numerous uncontrolled
clinical studies have identified a broad spectrum of problem issues for
these women. Of these, guilt over events related to incest and a dis-
turbed sense of self-worth emerge as difficulties frequently cited in
the literature. An aim of this study was to systematically assess the
variables of guilt disposition and self-concept within the context of
adult psychological functioning for a sample of college women incest
victims. This chapter will discuss the hypotheses, population and sample,
instruments, procedures, research design, and limitations of the study.
This research sought to answer the following questions:
(1) How do women in counseling with incest experience differ from
women in counseling without incest experience with respect to
(2) How do women in counseling with incest experience differ from
women in counseling without incest experience with respect to
The following hypotheses were investigated in this study:
Ho,--There is no significant difference
incest groups on the Total P Score
--There is no significant difference
incest groups on the Row 1 P Score
--There is no significant difference
incest groups on the Row 2 P Score
--There is no significant difference
incest groups on the Row 3 P Score
between the incest and non-
(Self-Concept) of the TSCS.
between the incest and non-
(Identity) of the TSCS.
between the incest and non-
(Self-Satisfaction) of the TSCS.
between the incest and non-
(Behavior) of the TSCS.
--There is no significant difference between the incest and non-
incest groups on the Column A Score (Physical Self) of the TSCS.
--There is no significant difference between the incest and non-
incest groups on the Column B Score (Moral-Ethical Self) of the
--There is no significant difference between the incest and non-
incest groups on the Column C Score (Personal Self) of the TSCS.
--There is no significant difference between the incest and non-
incest groups on the Column D Score (Family Self) of the TSCS.
--There is no significant difference between the incest and non-
incest groups on the Column E Score (Social Self) of the TSCS.
Ho2--There is no significant difference between the incest and non-
incest groups on the Total Score (TS) of the MGFCI.
--There is no significant difference between the incest and non-
incest groups on the sex-guilt (SG) subscale score of the MGFCI.
--There is no significant difference between the incest and non-
incest groups on the hostility-guilt (HG) subscale score of the
--There is no significant difference between the incest and non-
incest groups on the morality-conscience (MC) subscale score of
Population and Sample
The results of this study are generalizable to college women at
four year universities who have sought out counseling at student health
service programs either for problems related to incest or for other
reasons not related to incest. Both undergraduate and graduate women
were accepted as participants for this study. These women ranged in
age from eighteen to thirty years of age. The women who seek counseling
services within a university system reflect a variety of academic per-
formance levels and have demonstrated adequate coping skills in order to
maintain an academic standing that meets with the minimum requirements
for continued advancement toward a degree.
The sample size for this study was thirty (N = 30) with fifteen
(n = 15) incest and fifteen (n = 15) non-incest participants, all of
whom were in attendance at the University of Florida. Subjects were
selected using the following criteria:
(a) The subject needed to be a college woman between the ages of
eighteen and thirty.
(b) The subject needed to be free of a history of recent rape victimi-
zation (at least a six month period since rape victimization).
(c) The subject needed to be involved in a counseling relationship at
a counseling service at a four year college.
The impact of the incest experience on women in treatment is similar to
post rape trauma on the victim up to several months after the attack
(Tsai, Feldman-Summers, & Edgar, 1979). In order to eliminate this as
a confounding variable, all potential subjects with recent rape victimi-
zation experience were excluded from the study.
The Mosher Guilt Forced-Choice Inventory (MGFCI) (Form F) and the
Tennessee Self-Concept Scale (TSCS) were the instruments used in this
investigation of guilt disposition and self-concept. Three questionnaires
were used in this study. The Client Self-Perception Questionnaire (CLSQ)
and the Counselor Perception Questionnaire (COPQ) (see Appendices E and F,
respectively) were designed to collect data on the subject's current
psychological functioning from the perspective of subject and therapist.
The Demographic Information Questionnaire (DIQ) (see Appendix G) was
designed to collect demographic information on all subjects, with a sub-
sequent set of questions pertinent to incest subjects only.
The MGFCI has a seventy-eight (78) item stem forced-choice sentence
completion format which yields three subscales: hostility-guilt (HG),
sex-guilt (SG), morality-conscience (MC), and Total Guilt Score (TGS).
The TSCS consists of one hundred (100) self-descriptive, self-administer-
ing items and uses a Likert-type format on a true-false continuum.
The CLSP and COPQ are both composed of six questions and use a
Likert-type answer format on a little-great continuum. Scores are de-
rived from each questionnaire using either an additive index total or a
six numeral profile.
Tennessee Self-Concept Scale
The TSCS provides an overall measure of an individual's perception
of self. The self-concept is seen as important in the understanding of
personality, behavior, and state of mental health. Understanding how an
individual perceives self can be useful to professionals in clinical
settings for assessment purposes and assistance.
The TSCS is of sixth grade reading level and is applicable to indi-
viduals twelve years of age and older. It is appropriate to use with any
individual or group because of its sensitivity in measuring the whole
range of psychological adjustments. The Scale consists of two forms--a
Counseling Form and a Clinical and Research Form. For the purpose of
this study, the counseling form was selected. This form has fewer vari-
ables and greater ease in scoring than the Clinical and Research form.
The two forms do not differ in content, but require different scoring
and profiling procedures. Machine and handscoring is available for
both forms. Test completion ranges from ten to twenty minutes.
The counseling form yields five scores. The following is a de-
scription of the different scores:
1. The Self-Criticism Score (SC) consists of ten derogatory statements
borrowed from the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory,
L-Scale (Hathaway & McKinley, 1951). This measure assesses the
capacity for self-criticism. High scores refer to a healthy ability
to view oneself critically; low scores refer to greater defensive-
ness and less open capability to be self-critical.
2. The Positive Scores (P) are interpreted using a 3 x 5 configuration.
Three categories across (Row 1, Row 2, Row 3) represent primary
messages of an internal frame of reference (I am, I feel, and I do).
The five categories down (Column A through E) represent perceptions
using an external frame of reference and are the following: physical
self, moral-ethical self, personal self, family self, and social self.
A Total P score is derived from adding row and column scores.
a. Total P Score is most important in that it reflects the overall
level of self-esteem. Individuals who have a positive self-worth
yield high scores; the converse is true for an individual with
b. Row 1 P Score (Identity) is a measure of the individual's per-
ception of his basic identity in response to "What I am" items.
c. Row 2 P Score (Self-Satisfaction) is a measure of satisfaction
with respect to an individual's self-perception.
d. Row 3 P Score (Behavior) is a measure of an individual's self-
perception of his behavioral functioning in response to "This is
what I do" items.
e. Column A (Physical Self) is a measure of an individual's self-
perception regarding body image, health, competencies, and
f. Column B (Moral-Ethical Self) is a description of an individual's
sense of moral worth.
g. Column C (Personal Self) is a score that indicates the indi-
vidual's sense of self apart from his body and relationships.
h. Column D (Family Self) is a score indicative of an individual's
self-worth in relation to family.
i. Column E (Social Self) is a score indicative of self-worth in
relation to others in a general sense.
3. The Variability Scores (V) indicate the degree of consistency across
the different areas of self-perception. Individuals with low scores
would show greater consistency in responding; high scorers would show
less consistency and some variant of uncertainty. There are three
types of variability scores:
a. Total V score is indicative of the total variability among scores.
b. Column Total V is a summation of variation within the columns.
c. Row Total V is the summation of variations across rows.
d. The Distribution Score (D) is the distribution of answers across
five possible choices. This is a measure of self-perception as
it relates to confidence and certainty.
e. The Time Score is the amount of time to the nearest minute for
A large sample (N = 626) was used as a standardization group for
the establishment of norms. The sample ranged in age from twelve to
sixty-eight and was representative of all socioeconomic and educational
levels. Males and females and blacks and whites were approximately
equally represented. The population was selected from various sources,
some of which were high schools, colleges, and employees of state insti-
tutions. Reliability coefficients for test-retest were based on a
sample of college students (N = 60) over a two week period (Fitts, 1965).
Reliability data are as follows: Sc, .75; Total Positive, .92; Total V,
.67; Distribution, .89; and Time, .89.
Fitts (1965) established validity using four different procedures.
These were content validity, discrimination between groups, correlations
with other personality measures, and personality changes under specific
conditions. Using a panel of several clinical psychologists as judges,
determinations were made as to which items were content valid. Items
were selected if unanimous agreement was found among the judges. This
instrument has demonstrated discriminant ability between psychiatric
patients and non-patients, delinquents and non-delinquents, and psycho-
logically integrated from average individuals (Congdon, 1959; Piety,
1958; Havener, 1961; Wayne, 1964). The use of self-concept to differ-
entiate type and degree of disorder has also been found (Huffman, 1964).
There is an abundance of data to support the validity of the TSCS using
other personality measures. The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inven-
tory correlated with most of the TSCS scores in the predicted direction
with little linear correlation (McGee, 1960). Non-linear relationships
were found between TSCS scores and those of the Edwards Personal Pre-
ference Schedule as derived from a study of sixty-six students from
various high schools (Sundby, 1962). Studies on the effects of positive
and negative life experiences on self-concept have also demonstrated the
validity of the TSCS. In evaluating the effects of stress and failure
on self-concept of paratroop trainees, post-test scores indicated sig-
nificant score decreases (Gividen, 1959). Test-retest data collected on
patients in therapy and non-therapy conditions showed significant changes
in the self-concept scores of the patients (Ashcraft & Fitts, 1964) with
changes in 18 of the 22 variables in the predicted directions.
It is evident that the use of the TSCS to more fully understand
the dynamics of personality as it relates to an individual's self-esteem,
particularly in relationship to the personality construct of guilt, was
appropriate for use in this study. Of particular relevance are the
subscales relating to sexuality, hostility, and morality.
The Mosher Guilt Forced-Choice Inventory (Form F)
The construct validation of the MGFCI has been drawn from studies
which have used a variety of subject populations. Validation studies
have also included numerous theoretically relevant variables as measured
by objective instruments to establish the sensitivity and breadth of its
psychometric claims to measure the construct of guilt.
This instrument measures the cognitive disposition of guilt which
is a personality construct. This instrument does not measure guilt
feeling or the affective state of guilt.
An additive index is used to derive the four separate scores pre-
viously identified: TS, HG, MC, and SG. These separate scores measure
three separate dimensions of guilt and a general overall score.
The following is a brief identification of the separate scores:
Total Score (TS) is a measure of an individual's overall proneness to
experiencing guilt feelings for the violation or anticipation of
violation of an internalized set of moral standards.
Hostility-Guilt (HG) is a measure of an individual's proneness to
experiencing guilt feelings for the violation or anticipation of
violation of personal moral standards for expression of hostility.
Morality-Conscience (MC) is a measure of an individual's proneness to
experiencing guilt feelings for the violation or anticipation of
violation of personal moral standards for general issues of "right"
Sex-Guilt (SG) is a measure of an individual's proneness to experiencing
guilt feelings for the violation or anticipation of a violation of
moral standards for sexual behavior.
The male and female forms of the MGFCI are based on the original
guilt inventory developed by Mosher in 1961. This instrument was called
the Mosher Incomplete Sentences Test (MIST). In order to improve the
psychometric properties of this instrument, Mosher modified the MIST to
forced-choice and true-false sentence completion formats which were able
to demonstrate outstanding construct, convergent and discriminant validity
(Abramson & Mosher, 1975; Abramson, Mosher, Abramson, & Woychowski, 1977;
Fehr & Stamps, 1979; O'Grady & Janda, 1978; Persons, 1970). This instru-
ment has also demonstrated predictive validity (Griffit & Kaiser, 1978;
Janda, Magri, & Bannhart, 1977; Persons, 1970b).
The female form (Form F) was developed to encourage more research
into female guilt processes (Mosher, 1968). Form F was developed in
much the same manner as its forerunner, the male form. From a large
pool of item stems from the MIST, an analysis of internal consistency
and social desirability rating to assess response bias were applied for
the appropriate selection of inventory items. Following this, the instru-
ment was administered to 62 University of Connecticut undergraduate
Intercorrelations were analyzed using a multi-trait multi-method
matrix analysis to determine validity. Validity coefficients ranged
from 190 to .52. Reliability coefficients for each subscale have also
been determined: SG = .95; HG = .76; MC = .84.
The MGFCI, Form F, has shown psychometric soundness in making dis-
tinctions between the subcomponents of guilt (Mosher, 1968). It has also
helped to justify guilt disposition as a separate personality con-
Client Self-Perception and Counselor Perception Questionnaires
College women by nature comprise a homogeneous grouping. However,
due to the addition of other criteria for inclusion of subjects in this
study, the group homogeneity was considerably strengthened. As indicated
earlier in this chapter, not only did these subjects need to be college
women, they also needed to be (a) in counseling and (b) free of recent
rape victimization. This initial criterion enabled only one demon-
stratable difference between the experimental (incest) and control (non-
incest) groups, that of incest victimization, to be compared. Despite
the similarity between groups, there existed the possibility that the
incest and non-incest subjects might differ in the severity of their
psychological disturbance. Thus, it was necessary to match groups on
current psychological functioning. This was accomplished by using the
mean Total Scores derived from two instruments, the Client Self-Percep-
tion Questionnaire (CLSQ), and the Counselor Perception Questionnaire
(COPQ) (see Appendices E and F), designed by this researcher to assess
The CLSQ and the COPQ are similar and involve six questions that
ask the extent to which the subject's personal problems interfere with
different areas of life functioning (academic, social, ability to control
life circumstance, family, pervasiveness of problem interference, and
current living situation). A Likert-type response format from one to
five, with "1" meaning little and "5" meaning great, was used. Possible
minimum and maximum scores are five to thirty, respectively. Mean Total
Scores were derived by dividing the Total Score (summation of all six
questionnaire Item Scores) by the number of subjects. A mean score of
18.0 indicates average functioning. Less than eighteen approaches optimal
current psychological functioning, while greater than eighteen indicates
less than optimal functioning.
Questionnaire Item Scores were also used to assess group similarity.
Each Item Score was derived by dividing the total group score for that
item by the number of subjects in each group. A mean score of 3.0 indi-
cates average psychological functioning. Differences from the mean
correspond with the above explanation of Total Score means for optimal
and less optimal psychological functioning.
The selection of subjects was accomplished through a referral
system. Counseling professionals at several universities within the
Florida State University System were contacted and arrangements were
made for a referral protocol (see Method of Contact with University
Counseling Professionals, Appendix A). Three universities provided
assistance. Of these three four-year colleges, the University of
Florida was responsible for 100% of the referrals. Assumptions about
this circumstance will be further elucidated in the discussion section
(Chapter V) of this study.
For each client identified as a potential subject, a form request-
ing participation (Appendix C) was presented by the referring therapist.
If the subject agreed to participate, arrangements were made with the
investigator for a scheduled testing appointment. Each subject was
tested privately in an office provided by the involved agency. A
specific protocol of instructions (Appendix B) was utilized to provide
a consistent experimenter approach.
Test administration ranged from thirty-five to fifty minutes.
Total time needed for initial and final instructions and completion of
instruments was approximately one hour.
Confidentiality was maintained through the use of research identi-
fication numbers that were in no way associated with the name of the
subjects. Consequently, test results were not able to be associated
with any particular individual. Anonymity was also assured through this
process. Freedom to withdraw was clearly stated prior to verbal and
written consent. The subject was also instructed of her right to with-
draw from participation in the study at any time without fear of negative
consequences. These procedures were designed to minimize risk and to
protect the subjects. It was not seen as likely that emotional diffi-
culties would arise as a result of the subject's involvement. However,
because of the low probability that the test instruments might cause
recollection of earlier traumatic events, the following preparation was
made. If problems arose, it was expected that the referring therapist's
ongoing relationship with the subject would presumably provide the
necessary support and guidance. If further assistance was needed the
investigator, upon making initial arrangements with each referring
therapist, informed them of her availability to collaborate on any
problems that might arise. Additionally, a faculty from the University
of Florida Counselor Education Department was available for consulta-
tion if desired.
This study takes the form of a static group comparison. Similari-
ties and differences between the experimental (incest) and control (non-
incest) groups are described. The independent variable is dichotomous
(incest vs. non-incest) and the dependent variables are continuous
(guilt disposition and self-concept). T-tests were applied to estab-
lish if significant differences existed between the experimental and
control group means for the three subscale (morality-conscience, hos-
tility-guilt, sex-guilt) scores and Total Guilt Score of the MGFCI.
This same statistical test was applied to establish if significant dif-
ferences existed between control and experimental groups means for the
Total P Score and the eight subscale scores of the TSCS. A .05 level
of significance was used for all t-test analyses in this study.
The experimental and control groups were matched on current
psychological functioning through the use of the CLSQ and COPQ. A
t-test method to establish the extent of difference between client
group means for questionnaire Total Scores was applied. Evidence of
matching was further examined by comparing Total Score COPQ group
means for the experimental and control group counselors.
A description of DIQ data was accomplished using frequency dis-
tributions and group means for the following variables: age, race,
marital status, religion, grade point average, number of counseling
sessions, and duration of psychological treatment with current counselor
for both experimental and control groups.
For the experimental group (incest), DIQ data regarding incest
involvement were subjected to minimal statistical analysis (percentages,
range, and group means) with a primary emphasis on descriptive tech-
The use of a college population of women in counseling decreases
both the representativeness and generalizability of the research find-
ings. These individuals are quite different from individuals who do
not attend college. Thus, the findings of this study are only general-
izable to women in counseling at four year colleges between the age of
eighteen and thirty.
Another limiting factor is that these women are volunteers, so
findings cannot be generalized to non-volunteers and it cannot be
known from this study how these two groups might differ.
Both the homogeneous characteristics of this group of women sub-
jects and the fact that they are volunteers excludes many individuals
who may or may not be more deeply and negatively affected by the incest
experience. Additionally, it cannot be ascertained from this study how
women incest victims in counseling differ from women incest victims who
have not sought out counseling.
A final limiting factor is one of a statistical nature. The size
of the sample population (N = 30) makes it more difficult to establish
differences between experimental and control group means. A larger
sample population would be more desirable, yet difficult to obtain given
the selective criterion for subject inclusion and the special nature of
the experimental group subject.
This study addressed the impact of incest experience on the adult
psychological functioning of women. Two personality dimensions, self-
concept and guilt disposition, were investigated due to their major
importance as problem areas for these women. The purpose of this study
was to examine the similarities and differences between women with and
without incest experience on these two variables.
For the purpose of this study, thirty college women in counseling,
fifteen experimental (incest) and fifteen control (non-incest) subjects,
were administered the Tennessee Self-Concept Scale (TSCS), the Mosher
Guilt Forced-Choice Inventory (MGFCI), and three questionnaires developed
specifically for this research (see Appendices E, F, and G).
The results of this investigation are presented in this chapter.
The presentation of findings is ordered as follows: (a) review of the
demographic information, (b) evidence of matching between groups,
(c) an account of the experimental group's incest involvement, and
(d) comparative data on the dependent variables. A report of addi-
tional comparative and correlational analyses on group statistics is
The incest and non-incest subjects were client referrals from
student health service programs at the University of Florida. These
subjects were self-referred clients from both Student Mental Health and
the Sexual Assault Recovery Services. Although several other Universi-
ties agreed to participate in this study, therapists, as a whole at
other institutions, reported they were unaware of any incest victims in
their current client populations. Given that approximately one in five
women experience incest, it is apparent that a great need exists for
counseling professionals to acquire knowledge about incest, detection
of clients with incest history, and methods of treatment.
The description of experimental and control group subjects focused
on the following factors: age, race, marital status, religion, grade
point average, number of counseling sessions, and length of time in
counseling. Data on these variables enabled similarities between the
groups to be evaluated.
The group of women with incest experience ranged in age from
nineteen (19) to thirty (30) with a mean age of 23.8. Of these sub-
jects, ninety-three percent (93%) were White and seven percent (7%)
were Black. Eighty percent (80%) indicated they were single, with
thirteen percent (13%) divorced and seven percent (7%) married. Sixty-
six percent (66%) did not indicate a religious orientation, while
twenty-seven percent (27%) were Protestant, and seven percent (7%)
Jewish. The grade point average of the group ranged from 1.8 to 3.85,
with a mean cumulative grade point of 3.00. The number of counseling
sessions ranged from one to one hundred seventy-five (1 to 175), with
a mean of 45.4 sessions. Length of time in counseling ranged from one to
thirty-six months, with a mean of 11.7 months of clinical involvement.
The non-incest subjects ranged in age from eighteen to thirty (18
to 30), with a mean age of 23.7. Eighty-six percent (86%) of the women
were White, none were Black, and fourteen percent (14%) were from other
ethnic backgrounds. Of these women, eighty-six percent (86%) were single
with seven percent (7%) married and seven percent (7%) divorced. Seventy-
three percent (73%) of the group stated they had no religion, with
thirteen percent (13%) of the subjects reporting themselves as Catholic
and seven percent (7%) Jewish. This group's grade point ranged from 2.0
to 3.96, with a mean cumulative grade point of 3.08. Number of counsel-
ing sessions ranged from one to seventy-one (1 to 71), with a mean number
of sessions equalling 14.3. Length of time in psychological counseling
ranged from one to twenty-four months (1 to 24), with a mean of 5.4
months of clinical involvement.
A t-test analysis was applied which determined that the experimental
and control groups were not significantly different on the variables of
age (t = .0497, p < .05) and grade point average (t = -0.3353, p < .05).
Significant differences were found for number of sessions (t = 2.1826,
p < .05) and differences in length of time in counseling approached
significance. Groups were alike in that a large percentage of the
subjects were single. The religious and racial composition of the
group varied but was mostly similar in that seven percent (7%) of each
group was Jewish, and both were predominantly non-religious and