Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

James H. Geer


Thematically ambiguous written text was presented to 269 subjects in an examination of the role of cognition in sexuality. Information in the form of a title and a descriptive sentence (advance organizer information) was varied according to experimental condition, and this information reflected either a sexual or a non-sexual theme. Subjects were randomly assigned to one of 9 experimental groups, which varied in the amount and type of advance information given prior to the story. After reading the story and performing an intervening task, subjects completed two memory tasks. Both recall and recognition memory tasks were utilized to determine the interpretation given to the story by each subject. As predicted, the information contained in the advance organizers influenced the subjects' interpretations of the ambiguous story as measured by the recall and recognition memory tasks. It was found that when an ambiguously worded story was preceded by sexually related introductory information, subjects attributed sexual meaning to the story, while other subjects identified no sexual meaning from the same text when it was preceded by non-sexual information. Titles were found to have a stronger effect on choice of theme than did descriptive sentences. The choice of theme was not only affected by the type of advance information, but also by the congruence of the advance information. The strongest effects of the information contained in the advance organizers occurred when the title and descriptive sentence were congruent. Individual difference variables, including gender, sex guilt, and sexual experience were examined, and found to have little influence on story interpretation. Results obtained from the study were explained with reference to schema theory. The findings of this study suggest that at least in the case of ambiguous stimuli, sex is in the "eye of the beholder".