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Learn More. While a of studies have assessed the role of personality traits, situational variables, and drug use on sexual risk behaviors, fewer studies have employed experimental methods to examine cognitive processes that may underlie risky sexual decision making. Task performance was measured by totals of false alarms and misses. Individuals high in impulsivity and low in abstract intellectual ability committed more false alarms in conditions involving sexually arousing stimuli. Furthermore, higher sexual excitation scores were linked to more misses.

While research has identified a of dispositional e. The current study examined the effects of dispositional and situational factors on cognitive processes relevant to sexual decision making through the use of experimental methods. The rational model of decision making — in which individuals consider the risks and benefits of several options in order to make the best decision; a time consuming and effortful process — is believed to be insufficient to explain decision making under all conditions Kahneman, To explain departures from rational decision making, dual systems theories have proposed that choice behavior is governed by two information processing systems.

System 1 drives judgments and decisions made effortlessly or out of habit, and which prove difficult to modify Kahneman, For example, during a sexual encounter, positive experiences and sexual arousal can lead an individual to associate sex with desirable and positive feelings and outcomes. Subsequent sexual encounters may activate these associations and, in an automatic, preconscious way, bias the individual toward a specific way of responding e.

System 2 operations lend themselves to serial processing and rely upon past consequences, as well as present and future implications of actions, to guide decision making. Unlike System 1, System 2 operations are rule-governed, emotionally neutral, and monitor cognition and overt behavior, including those generated by System 1. Through its focus on rational decision making, a large proportion of earlier research on risky sexual behavior is consistent with the System 2 view e. In the context of the example, the decision to engage in risky sexual activity would be the result of a purely rational comparison of relative risks and rewards of each possible action.

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Dual systems theories hold that the degree to which each system guides decision making is influenced by dispositional or situational variables Hofmann et al. This may be particularly relevant to decisions made in sexual situations, as factors such as mood, sexual arousal, and certain personality characteristics have been found to affect sexual decision making e. However, its association with sexual risk behaviors has been less widely studied.

Justus, Finn, and Steinmetz found that s of one-night stands and casual sex partners were positively correlated with impulsivity, but not after ing for other traits indicative of behavioral disinhibition including sensation seeking. In addition to impulsivity, other mechanisms specific to sexual behavior and response should be considered as possible contributors to risky sexual behavior.

Sexual excitation refers to the ease with which an individual becomes sexually aroused, and sexual inhibition refers to the degree to which potential social, physical, or emotional threats or risks may suppress sexual arousal and associated approach tendencies. Low intellectual ability has been associated with risky decision making e.

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Individuals with low abstract intellectual aptitude may not draw as much on past experiences or consider implications of their choices when making decisions, and may have more difficulty inhibiting impulses relative to individuals with higher abstract intellectual ability.

However, little else is known about the role of intellectual aptitude in the sexual decision making process. Combined with high impulsivity, low sexual inhibition, or low intellectual ability, sexual arousal may increase the salience of desirable, immediate prospects e. For instance, participants may be asked to imagine themselves in a hypothetical, eroticized sexual situation with a new partner where no condom is available e. Participants may be queried regarding their intentions to engage in sexual risk behavior at various points during the task, which allows researchers to determine how situational variables and sexual and nonsexual traits moderate different stages of the decision making process.

However, these behavioral analogue tasks likely access more controlled, deliberative System 2 processes than automatic System 1 ones. To investigate System 1 operations relevant to sexual behavior, researchers have used implicit cognitive-behavioral methods, including priming e.

These tasks have been used to measure how sexual information influences automatic cognitive processes, behaviors, and psychophysiological responses in clinical and nonclinical populations. For example, priming tasks have demonstrated that subliminal exposures to sexual stimuli facilitate decision times to sexual stimuli but not nonsexual stimuli Gillath et al.

While the implicit tasks discussed above capture System 1 aspects of decision making, their reliance on the instruction to subjects to respond as fast as possible means that they do not, by de, differentiate between processes relevant to the initiation or suppression of behavioral impulses or action tendencies. Some versions of the task include a contingency reversal, in which Go stimuli become No-go stimuli and vice versa.

This task involves processes analogous to sexual situations. For example, failing to use condoms on a regular basis can lead to STI infection. Some individuals may learn from this consequence and alter their future behavior to use condoms consistently; however, others may not adapt to this consequence and continue to have unprotected sex. Depending on the person, these decisions may be influenced to different degrees by sexual arousal, sexual inhibition and excitation, impulsivity, and intellectual aptitude. Second, we predicted that low sexual inhibition or high sexual excitation would be linked to worse performance on the task, specifically when individuals were presented with sexually arousing stimuli.

We made no predictions regarding sex differences on the task based on the dual control model since, to date, no experimental research has compared sexual inhibition and excitation patterns in men and women. Third, we expected that lower intellectual abilities would be associated with worse performance on the task, particularly in conditions with sexually arousing stimuli. Individuals low in intellectual ability, high in sexual excitation, or low in sexual inhibition may be more susceptible to such interference than impulsive individuals.

Finally, we expected that participants would perform better after the contingency reversal, which would demonstrate learning over the course of the task. However, we expected that high levels of impulsivity and sexual excitation, and low sexual inhibition and intellectual abilities, would be linked to worse performance on the task following the reversal. Participants were 53 self-identified heterosexual undergraduate students 28 men and 25 women recruited from the psychology subject pool at a large Midwestern university.

The mean age of participants was All participants indicated having exposure to sexually explicit media. Participants were reimbursed for their participation with up to three hours of research credit for an introductory psychology course. This questionnaire was adapted from Bancroft et al. The Impulsivity scale demonstrates good internal consistency reliability, with a Cronbach alpha of. For the purpose of this study, and to limit the of variables for analysis, we specifically focused on the SES and SIS2 subscales, which in research have been associated with the tendency to engage in risky sexual behavior e.

Low SIS2 scores indicate a propensity for continued sexual response and arousal when faced with potentially negative consequences of sex, and high SES scores indicate a tendency to be easily sexually aroused by a variety of potentially sexual situations and stimuli.

The SILS is a brief, self-administered test of general intellectual functioning in adolescents and adults Zachary, The abstraction subtest consists of a series of 20 items of increasing difficulty and is to be completed in 10 minutes or less. Each item depicts a sequence of letters, s, or words with the final element of the sequence missing, which the test-taker is to complete. At the beginning of each of the four conditions, participants were presented with a 3 minute film clip to induce either sexual arousal or a neutral mood state. The two neutral film clips were taken from documentaries about cats and sea turtles.

Half of the photos depicted nude, heterosexual couples engaged in sexual activity e. The remaining 20 photos depicted neutral scenes of individuals engaged in everyday activities e. All film clips and photos were presented using DirectRT v. The SILS was then administered in paper-and-pencil format.

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Following the SILS, the participant was seated alone in front of a computer screen in a closed testing room. The participant was also fitted with headphones to hear audio from the film clips and to minimize distraction from ambient noise. Instructions presented on the computer screen informed the participant that four short film clips would be shown, and after each one the participant would engage in a short photo learning task.

Unlike Finn et al.

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Participants were instructed to learn by trial and error when to Go press the spacebar and when not to Go withhold a response. To distinguish between Go and No-go stimuli, participants could choose to press the spacebar during the presentation of each photo. After pressing the spacebar, corrective feedback was provided within a ms inter-trial interval. If participants withheld responses to Go stimuli or to No-go stimuli, no feedback was given and the experiment automatically proceeded to the next trial. Ultimately, participants who performed well on the task learned to respond consistently to Go stimuli and to stop responding to No-go stimuli.

Task performance was measured by totals of false alarms i. Unlike studies, we did not provide monetary rewards for good performance on the task to avoid confounding the motivational salience of financial incentives with that of the sexually arousing stimuli. The experiment was organized into four conditions presented to each participant in randomized order. All stimuli within each condition were presented in randomized order. As in Finn et al. Participants were not informed when this contingency reversal would occur.

Conditions were counterbalanced to avoid order effects. Subjects with scores equal to the median were randomly ased to low and high scoring groups so that both groups would remain roughly equivalent in size. Mixed analyses of variance ANOVAs were performed to test influences of the within-subjects variables of film clips and task stimuli and the between-subjects variables of participant sex and individual differences i.

Separate false alarm and miss totals were calculated for before and after the contingency reversal in each condition. ificant interaction effects were followed up with post-hoc pairwise comparisons using Bonferroni corrections. SPSS v. Bivariate correlations revealed no ificant associations among our self-report measures, indicating that each of our measures assessed a different construct. Therefore, for each questionnaire, 26 participants were ased to the low scoring group, and 27 participants to the high scoring group.

The median response to the Abstraction scale was One participant did not complete the scale; thus, 26 participants were ased to each of the two low and high groups. No ificant sex differences. No other ificant correlations were found.

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No sex differences were found for the neutral task.

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The Effects of Impulsivity, Sexual Arousability, and Abstract Intellectual Ability on Men’s and Women’s Go/No-Go Task Performance