A few years ago I went back to school for my Masters Degree and while there found I really enjoyed ripping apart research studies. Seriously, if it’s being published someone reviewed it and yet I find most research studies have glaring faults. I’m not talking about the kinds of faults that are unavoidable because you’re dealing with human beings. I’m talking about asking the wrong questions and then asking the questions in a way that are designed to illicit the response the researcher wants. Today I would like to evaluate the research done at Michigan State University about Fifty Shades of Grey, the article is titled: Fiction or Not? Fifty Shades is Associated with Health Risks in Adolescent and Young Adult Females. The article was published in the Journal for Woman’s Health.
The first problem I see with this research is the bias of the researchers. Research is done because someone is curious about something, and often thinks the results will go one way or another. Their job though, it to be unbiased in that research, or as unbiased as they can be so the results can be trusted. In the Background section of the Abstract consists of 3 sentences, all 3 talk about Fifty Shades of Grey depicting violence against woman. Ok, maybe it was just the Abstract? No, the first paragraph of the introduction talks about how Fifty Shades of Grey depicts violence.
The way this reads I have no doubt that the authors of this research were biased against Fifty Shades of Grey before comparing Christian’s behavior to the CDC’s definition of intimate partner violence. If you try hard enough you can fit almost anything into any definition you want, the job of a researcher is to do it in an unbiased way, I don’t see from the start of the study. I believe that everything from this point will be tainted by their own preconceived notions. But here is the question they are trying to answer: What is the empirical correlation, if any, between health risks and reading popular fiction depicting violence against women?
Umm, are they studying the health risks of popular fiction that depiction violence against woman or Fifty Shades of Grey? I know many books that have a worse representation of a relationship and many readers of Fifty Shades of Grey have read those. No, I don’t see anything in this article about whether readers of Fifty Shades of Grey have read other popular fiction books that depict violence against woman. I guess that means my second problem with this research is in the fundamental question they asked and claim to have answered.
Sample: 18-24 year old woman at Ohio State University: 219 females had read at least the entire first book of Fifty Shades of Grey and 436 had not read any of the series. It’s not stated where they recruited the participants from, other than Ohio State University. We also don’t know the responses for the group who started Fifty Shades of Grey, but didn’t finish it. This group might actually be the most interesting because they are the ones who don’t like the book.
Let’s delve into some of these questions on the survey, I will say some of them looked like good questions, but a few stuck out to me as poorly written to the point that they weren’t actually measuring anything related to abuse in a relationship.
This group starts with: Has any partner you’ve been involved with ever…
*Personally I would have given some sort of qualification about whether the participant has stayed with the partner or ended it
Hit, slap, or physically hurt you on purpose?
*Was their consent for this, getting slapped with consent during a sex act would technically count as a yes for this study. But I don’t think it’s what the CDC has in mind as abuse.
Shouted, yelled, insulted or sworn at you?
*Seriously? Yelled, or shouted. Wow, by that definition just about everyone I know has had abuse in their relationship. Shit, you can’t have an argument with your partner.
Made unwanted phone calls, send unwanted text messages, emails or gifts or showed up in person and waited for you when you didn’t want them to?
*Is this after they were asked to leave you alone? Because if it’s before, then it’s really just annoying behavior. Heck, if I broke up with someone and they sent a text wishing me well at a new job, that might count as a yes for this.
Imagine if you’re a girl pissed off at your ex-boyfriend, or current boyfriend and you’re focused all every little stupid thing they did. Wow, due to the open-ended nature of these questions you could find a way to say yes to almost every question in this survey just to spite him.
Next the study moved on to Health Indicators.
Binge Drinking – Ohio State is a Top 10 Party School. I went to a Top 10 Party School (Penn State) – my non-drinking friends drank. I question if these people remember how much they drink. I’m only half kidding.
Eating Disorder – Had they ever fasted for 24 or more hours or used a diet aid to lose weight.
Sexual History – Having sexual intercourse with 5 or more partners or anal sex with at least one person.
The Analysis and discussion states that they could not determine causality in the relationship between Fifty Shades of Grey readership and the health indicators examined.. In areas where they could find significance in most cases they found numbers higher for binge drinking, violence and victimization and eating disorders. However, looking at the statistics, in many cases the difference is slight. This is why I wonder where they recruited students from. If you have a large group of students who were Christian in the study, than I would expect that the non-reading group to be larger for this study (which it is), and would be less likely to binge drink and be promiscuous, independent of Fifty Shades of Grey. This study also does not address why participants read or did not read Fifty Shades of Grey, this would be valuable information in determining if perceived abuse in the series impacted the decision not to read the series and the correlation it has to violence, abuse, promiscuity, eating disorders and sexual history.
Instead, the researches make some very dangerous and biased assumptions:
When discussing the group who had read only Fifty Shades of Grey, they think the group has higher rates of being shouted at, yelled at or sworn at and for unwanted calls/text messages – two questions this study that I have serious reservations about the writing of. This group was possibly less motivated to continue reading the series because of their abuse experiences. WHAT? That’s the only assumption that they can make? Not that the readers didn’t like the book, that they were too busy having sex, or peer pressure kept them from reading the book.
How am I supposed to believe that these woman were not biased and they did an honest and fair study? Especially when they say this:
We are therefore unable to report causality in the relationship between Fifty Shades’ readership and the health behaviors examined in the study (violence victimization, binge drinking, sexual practices, and disordered eating). Namely, we cannot state whether reading Fifty Shades caused women to experience some of the health indicators we assessed (e.g., disordered eating), or whether women predisposed to these health indicators were more drawn to read Fifty Shades than other women. Regardless, the order of the relationship may be inconsequential; if women experienced adverse health behaviors first (e.g., disordered eating), reading Fifty Shades might reaffirm those experiences and potentially aggravate related trauma, as consuming fiction is purported to impact sensory intake.
Basically, they designed a crappy study that didn’t prove their point, so they just assume they were right anyway.