Andrew Wilson, Ph.D.
This paper illustrates an application of computer content analysis in sexology. It compares a set of fictional fetishistic narratives published on a web site for rubber boot fetishists (n = 27) with a set of samples taken from general romance and love stories (n = 29). Using Martindale's Regressive Imagery Dictionary, it is shown that the fetishistic narratives contain a significantly higher proportion of primary process content and a significantly lower proportion of secondary process content than the romance and love stories. The subcategory of Icarian imagery is the main contributor to this effect. These findings appear to support previous theoretical views of fetishism as a regressive state and a "destruction of reality". Further content analysis studies of a wider range of fetishes may facilitate a typological categorization of fetishism.
The categories in a categorial content analysis may be either general linguistic categories (such as Clothing, Time, or Color) or they may seek to operationalize a psychological or sociological theory. Examples of the latter type of category are the categories used in the Regressive Imagery Dictionary (Martindale 1975), which seeks to operationalize theories of regressive cognition as proposed by Freud and others; those used in the Dresden Anxiety Dictionary (Dresdner Angstwörterbuch -- Berth 1998), which is used to count the occurrence of anxiety types such as "death anxiety" or "mutilation anxiety"; and those used in the DOTA dictionary, which operationalizes a theory of dogmatic thinking (Ertel 1972).
Computer content analysis has found a particularly strong following
in psychology and psychiatry, where it has been used, amongst other things,
to study psychological states (Viney 1983) and to distinguish between different
psychiatric diagnoses (Oxman et al 1988; Gottschalk 1995). In order
to illustrate one of the many potential applications of computer content
analysis in sexology, this paper will present a case study of a set of
fictional fetishistic narratives.
In psychoanalytic theory, primary process thought is most closely associated with early childhood, whilst secondary process is the normal conscious mode of cognition for adults: indeed, a decrease in primary process has been demonstrated experimentally in stories written by older versus younger children (West et al 1985). In experimental studies, primary process has also been strongly correlated with altered states of consciousness, such as drug-induced states (Martindale and Fischer 1977; West et al 1983), and it has been shown to be strongly present in the folk tales of more primitive societies (Martindale 1976).
At various stages in the history of psychology, sexual fetishism has been associated with all three of these phenomena: childhood, altered states, and primitive society. The majority of pscyhoanalysts, for example, view fetishism as a regressive state: Chasseguet-Smirgel (1991) is a notable proponent of this view, but it has also been advanced by Abraham (1948) and is implicit in the equation of fetish objects with Winnicott's (1953) childhood transitional objects. Fetishism has sometimes also been associated with altered states, most notably in Mitchell et al's (1953) famous case, in which the fetishist entered a trance-like state when gazing on a safety-pin. One of the earliest studies of sexual fetishism by Binet (1887) also likened it to a form of primitive religion, a comparison taken up by Comfort (1978), who proposed that fetishistic sexual rituals had much in common with magical and religious rites.
On the basis of these comparisons, and particularly the widely
held theory of regression, we might hypothesize that fetishistic texts
are likely to contain a significantly higher proportion of primary process
content than other, non-fetishistic texts. In view of Chasseguet-Smirgel's
(1991) view of fetishism as a "destruction of reality", we might also hypothesize
that a reduced amount of secondary process will be encountered. As primary
and secondary process are typically negatively correlated, the measurement
of secondary as well as primary process content has frequently been neglected
(as, for example, in West and Martindale 1988), but a count of secondary
process is arguably a valuable additional statistic: for instance, in a
content analytic study of speech under hypnosis, Elter-Nodvin (2000) found
no significant difference in primary process between the hypnotic and waking
states, but she did find a significant reduction in secondary process in
the hypnotic state.
As a comparison group, the study used the Romance and Love Story section
of the Freiburg-LOB ("FLOB") Corpus of British English (Hundt, Sand &
Siemund 1998). This was considered an appropriate comparison, since the
majority of the rubber boot stories were relationship oriented: they focussed
on social activities in which rubber boots featured strongly, rather than
just on the boots themselves. The entire FLOB Corpus is a 1 million word
collection of samples of written English that were published in the year
1991; the Romance and Love Story section contains 29 samples taken from
novels or short stories (mean length = 2058 words, maximum = 2108, minimum
|Main category and primary subcategories||Secondary subcategories||Example words|
|Drive||Oral||breast, drink, lip|
|Anal||sweat, rot, dirty|
|Sex||lover, kiss, naked|
|Sensation||General sensation||fair, charm, beauty|
|Touch||touch, thick, stroke|
|Taste||sweet, taste, bitter|
|Odor||breath, perfume, scent|
|Sound||hear, voice, sound|
|Vision||see, light, look|
|Cold||cold, winter, snow|
|Hard||rock, stone, hard|
|Soft||soft, gentle, tender|
|Perceptual Disinhibition||Passivity||die, lie, bed|
|Voyage||wander, desert, beyond|
|Random movement||wave, roll, spread|
|Diffusion||shade, shadow, cloud|
|Chaos||wild, crowd, ruin|
|Regressive Cognition||Unknown||secret, strange, unknown|
|Timeless||eternal, forever, immortal|
|Altered consciousness||dream, sleep, wake|
|Brink passage||road, wall, door|
|Narcissism||eye, heart, hand|
|Concreteness||at, where, over|
|Icarian Imagery||Ascend||rise, fly, throw|
|Height||up, sky, high|
|Descend||fall, drop, sink|
|Depth||down, deep, beneath|
|Fire||sun, fire, flame|
|Water||sea, water, stream|
|Abstract Thought||know, may, thought|
|Social Behavior||say, tell, call|
|Instrumental Behavior||make, find, work|
|Restraint||must, stop, bind|
|Order||simple, measure, array|
|Temporal Reference||when, now, then|
|Moral Imperative||should, right, virtue|
The RID was applied to the texts using the PROTAN suite of programs for content analysis (Hogenraad et al 1995). PROTAN first divides the input file into the segments pre-marked by the analyst (in this case, the individual stories and corpus samples). The words in these segments are then reduced by another procedure to their basic, uninflected forms (e.g. loves, loving and loved all become instances of love). The reduced text is then matched against the entries in the RID. For each text segment, PROTAN produces a frequency count of each RID category, which shows how many word occurrences fell into that category. However, because text segment lengths vary, these raw counts are typically not the most appropriate measures to use. To take account of segment length, therefore, PROTAN also offers a frequency rate for each segment, based upon the frequency count. This rate is calculated as follows:
Frequency rate = SQRT [ ( frequency count / segment length ) * 1000 ]
Since textual data often fail to fit a normal distribution, the non-parametric
Mann-Whitney U-Test was used to identify significant differences between
the two groups. All statistical tests were carried out on PROTAN frequency
rates using the procedures in SPSS for Windows version 10.0.7.
As predicted, the rubber boot stories showed significantly higher frequency
rates of primary process words than did the control group of romance and
love stories (U = 169, z = -3.648, p < 0.001); the latter, in turn,
had significantly higher rates of secondary process words (U = 128, z =
-4.321, p < 0.001). Within the summary category of primary process,
only one subcategory -- Icarian Imagery -- was significantly more frequent
in the rubber boot stories (U = 32, z = -5.895, p < 0.001).
A further subcategory of primary process -- Perceptual Disinhibition -- proved to be significantly commoner in the control texts, at a lower probability threshold (U = 250, z = -2.320, p < 0.05).
The subcategory of primary process which most strongly discriminated between the two groups was Icarian Imagery. According to Ogilvie's (1968) classic study of Icarian personalities, Icarians tend to be fixated at a regressive stage: they wish to remain children, are anxious and confused about genital development, and show an underlying fear of women. That the rubber boot stories contained substantially more Icarian imagery than the romance and love stories might thus be seen to support both Chasseguet-Smirgel's (1991) regression hypothesis and Storr's (1991) suggestion that fetishists "feel themselves to be inadequate as men".
However, we should be careful not to generalize too widely: this finding
is based on just one kind of text (fictional narrative) taken from just
one variety of fetish (women in rubber boots). As Chalkley and Powell
(1983) showed, fetishism is an extremely varied phenomenon in terms of
both the fetish object itself and the activities in which the fetishist
seeks to include the object. Further studies are thus called for,
drawing both on different fetishes and on different text types: for example,
they might involve interviews with fetishists themselves as well as analysing
fictional narratives. A well controlled series of content analysis
studies might ultimately, perhaps, be able to detect typological differences
between the different kinds of fetish.
 Version for PROTAN, revision of 11 March 1992 by Robert Hogenraad
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Corrected on 10/16/02
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