Stalking Myth-Attributions: Examining the Role
of Individual and Contextual Variables on Attributions
in Unwanted Pursuit Scenarios
H. Colleen Sinclair
Published online: 13 August 2010
Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010
Abstract Undergraduates from a large southeastern
university in the U.S. (n=258) read a scenario describing
an unwanted heterosexual pursuit that manipulated story
perspective (pursuer’svs.rejecter’s) and pursuer/rejecter
gender. Measures of 1) external attributions for pursuer
behavior, 2) negative internal attributions to rejecters, and 3)
Stalking Myths endorsement followed. Individuals adopting
the pursuer’s perspective showed higher rates of external
attributions for pursuer behavior than those in the rejecter
perspective condition. They also endorsed more negative
internal attributions for rejecters than those in the rejecter
perspective condition, especially when the rejecter was male.
Participant gender also mattered. Men exhibited more victim
blaming tendencies than women when the rejecter was female.
However, stalking myth endorsement was the strongest
predictor of attributions.
Stalking is typically defined as the unwanted and repeated
harassment of an individual that causes that person some
level of distress (Spitzberg and Cupach 2007). Definitions
vary between states in the United States and across countries.
However, even employing a conservative definition that
requires a high degree of victim fear, stalking is a crime that
affects over a million Americans each year (Tjaden and
Thoennes 1998), with recent statistics estimating that as
many as 3.4 million Americans are stalked (Baum et al.
2009). Yet, 19 years after the advent of anti-stalking
legislation, the legal system is still grappling with fitting this
“new crime” into their existing jurisprudence framework.
Only approximately a quarter of stalking instances reported to
the police are criminally prosecuted (NIJCDC 2000). This
may be due to the fact that stalking often grows out of
unwanted relational pursuits where one party seeks to obtain
or re-obtain a romantic relationship with a rejecting party
(Cupach and Spitzberg 2004; Spitzberg and Cupach 2007).
Thus many may be struggling with where to draw the line
between stalking behavior and courtship (Emerson et al. 1998;
Sinclair and Frieze 2000). Accordingly, an aim of the present
study was to explore the conceptions that U.S. undergraduate
students hold of stalking and examine how these beliefs, and
other individual and situational factors, might shape their
perception of a potential stalking case. I focused on how these
students made internal and external attributions to rejecters
and pursuers, and further examined how gender, perspective
(pursuer’ssidevs.rejecter’s side), and the endorsement of
stalking stereotypes affected these attributions.
Explaining the Problem: Attributions & Misattributions
The majority of the existing research on the perceptions of
stalking has focused on the application of the label of
stalking to one’s own experiences (e.g., Jordan et al. 2007,
U.S. college women; Tjaden et al. 2000, U.S. citizens), to
hypothetical scenarios (e.g., Dennison and Thomson 2002,
Australian citizens; Kinkade et al. 2005, U.S. students;
Phillips et al. 2004, U.S. students) or to lists of behaviors
(e.g., Amar 2007, U.S. college women; Sheridan et al.
British female trade unionists; Sheridan et al. 2002,
H. C. Sinclair (*)
Department of Psychology & Social Science Research Center,
Mississippi State University,
P. O. Box 6161, Mississippi State, MS 39762, USA
Sex Roles (2012) 66:378–391