Revenge porn and hoarding

Gail Kinman rounds up from two more British Psychological Society Annual Conference sessions.

In 2015 it became a criminal offence to share private, sexual material of another person without their consent and with intention to cause them embarrassment or distress. People found guilty of sharing such images, either online or offline, could face a prison sentence of up to two years. So-called ‘revenge porn’ is most frequently experienced by young females where intimate images are posted on social media after a relationship breakdown, but men can also be victims. Drawing on the findings of two studies that presented participants with a series of vignettes depicting cases of revenge porn, Elspeth Dustagheer from the University of Nottingham explored public perceptions of victim blame and harm. Particular focus was placed on gender differences in perpetrators and victims and the role of beliefs in a ‘just world’ in shaping attitudes towards revenge porn.

Female victims were generally believed to experience more harm from revenge porn than males (particularly by female participants), whereas male victims were more likely to be blamed for allowing themselves to get in such situations (particularly by males). Nonetheless, participants with stronger beliefs in a just world – that ‘the world is a fair place and bad things happen to bad people’ – tended to place more blame on female victims of revenge porn, especially if the vignette indicated that either partner had been unfaithful. Participants who had themselves shared private sexual images were less likely to blame the victim, presumably due to feelings of identification with the victim.

The findings highlight some of the factors that might influence the disclosure of revenge porn, as women may be more likely to be labelled as ‘damaged’ and men as ‘weak’. Cognitive biases, such as the belief that people are to blame for their own misfortune, also seem to influence public perceptions of victims. The incidence of revenge porn has increased considerably over the last few years, but only 39 per cent of cases that are referred to the police actually get to court. Insight into the perceptions of professionals working with the criminal justice system is therefore needed to support victims of revenge porn. 

Do your possessions own you?

Do you find it hard to throw things away? Does the thought of discarding your possessions cause you distress? Victoria Barnes from Nottingham Trent University used a constructivist approach to provide insight into hoarding behaviours: how they develop and are maintained and how they change over time. Also explored was the subjective meaning of personal possessions and living space for people with hoarding behaviours.

Interviews with 11 people who self-identified as hoarders showed that possessions have a variety of psychological functions and meet different needs. Rather than collecting ‘rubbish’, participants saw their possessions as valuable and interacted with them regularly. Nonetheless, a distinction was made between items that were treasured – ‘things I would save if my house was on fire’ – and those of a lesser value. Interviewees tended to take great pride in seeing value or potential in items that others might not appreciate and often saw themselves as ‘temporary custodians’ of such objects. 

Interviewees provided several reasons for their hoarding behaviours. Collecting objects was often a way of documenting their personal history, preserving the past, and perpetuating the memory of other people – allowing them to ‘feel close’ to a lost loved one. Interviewees were also reluctant to part with items due to anxiety about past material deprivation and as a substitute for emotional connections with others to ward off feelings of isolation and loneliness. Hoarding could also foster a sense of physical security, whereby possessions were used to create a ‘barricade’ to discourage intruders. Some evidence of anthropomorphising objects was found, where participants imbued items with emotions and believed that discarding these possessions would somehow damage them. The study provided insight into the psychological functions of possessions for self-identified hoarders that could inform interventions if behaviour had deleterious effects for themselves or others. The need to study people with more severe hoarding behaviours was identified, but it was acknowledged that this group is very hard to access. 

- You can read more coverage from the Annual Conference online, and in the June and July print editions.

BPS Members can discuss this article

Already a member? Or Create an account

Not a member? Find out about becoming a member or subscriber