Differences in the Eyes of the Beholders: The Roles of Subjective and Objective Judgments in Sexual Harassment Claims

Katherine M.K. Kimble, Katlyn S. Farnum, Richard L. Wiener, Jill Allen, Gwenith D. Nuss, Sarah J. Gervais

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


In 2 studies, we found support for current sexual harassment jurisprudence. Currently, the courts use a 2-prong test to determine the viability of a sexual harassment claim: that the adverse treatment is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter conditions of employment based on a protected class from the perspective of the individual complainant (subjective prong) and from the perspective of a reasonable person (objective prong). In Experiment 1, trained male undergraduate research assistants administered sequential objectifying gazes and comments to undergraduate female research participants. We found that the pervasive objectification delivered by multiple men (compared with 1 man) did not elicit more negative emotion or harm the experiencers' task performance, although it did lead them to make increased judgments of sexual harassment. In Experiment 2, observers (who viewed a recording of an experiencer's interactions with the male research assistants) and predictors (who read a protocol describing the facts of the interaction) anticipated the female targets would experience negative emotions, show impaired performance, as well as find more evidence in the interaction of sexual harassment. Observers' judgments mirrored those of the experiencers' while predictors' judgments demonstrated affective forecasting errors. Predictors were more likely to anticipate more negative emotion, worse performance, and greater likelihood of sexual harassment. Overall, these studies demonstrate the impact and importance of considering perceptions of sexual harassment from multiple perspectives and viewpoints.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)319-336
Number of pages18
JournalLaw and human behavior
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016


  • discrimination
  • emotion
  • objectification
  • sexual harassment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • General Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Law


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