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Influence of Sexual Arousal on Decision Making

Influence of Sexual Arousal on Decision Making



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Published by A Roy
Research presented in the book 'Predictably Irrational' by Dan Ariely.
Research presented in the book 'Predictably Irrational' by Dan Ariely.

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Published by: A Roy on Mar 21, 2008
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 Journal of Behavioral Decision Making J. Behav. Dec. Making
: 87–98 (2006)Published online 26 July 2005 in Wiley InterScience(www.interscience.wiley.com).
: 10.1002/bdm.501
The Heat of the Moment: The Effect of SexualArousal on Sexual Decision Making
ABSTRACTDespite the social importance of decisions taken in the ‘‘heat of the moment,’’ verylittle research has examined the effect of sexual arousal on judgment and decision mak-ing. Herewe examine the effect of sexual arousal, induced by self-stimulation, on judg-ments and hypothetical decisions made by male college students. Students wereassigned to be in either a state of sexual arousal or a neutral state and were asked to:(1) indicate how appealing they find a wide range of sexual stimuli and activities, (2)report their willingness to engage in morally questionable behavior in order to obtainsexual gratification, and (3) describe their willingness to engage in unsafe sex whensexually aroused. The results show that sexual arousal had a strong impact on all threeareas of judgment and decision making, demonstrating the importance of situationalforces on preferences, as well as subjects’ inability to predict these influences on theirown behavior. Copyright
2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
key words
sexual arousal; situational influences; prediction of preferences
INTRODUCTIONThe sex drive is a vitally important motivational force in human behavior, from the perspective of both theindividual and the society. Sexual motivation plays a direct role in considerable economic activity, includingpornography and prostitution, and a less direct role in diverse industries and activities such as night-timeentertainment, advertising, and fashion. Sexual motivation and behavior also underlies numerous social ills,including sexually transmitted disease, unwanted pregnancies, and sex-related crimes.Despite the importance of the topic, most of the information we have about the effect of sexual arousal on judgment, choice, and behavior more generally, comes from personal or vicarious experience. Unlike theextensive research on, for example fear (e.g., LeDoux, 1996; Lerner & Keltner, 2001; Panksepp, 1998), therehas been very little research tracing out the diverse effects of sexual arousal on judgment and decision mak-ing. In this paper, we examine the effect of sexual arousal in young male adults on three aspects of judgment
2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
*Correspondence to: Dan Ariely, MIT, E56-311, 77 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA. E-mail: ariely@mit.edu
and choice: (1) their preferences for a wide range of sexual stimuli and activities, (2) their willingness toengage in morally questionable behaviors in order to obtain sexual gratification, and (3) their willingnessto engage in unsafe sex when sexually aroused.There are good reasons, beyond introspection and casual empiricism, to suspect that sexual arousal willaffect these dimensions of judgment and choice. The sexual circuitry of men and women evolved not only toorchestrate sexual behavior but also to motivate it in suitable situations (Buss, 2003; Rolls, 1999). By exo-genously arousing male subjects we are, in effect, parasitizing men’s evolved psychological mechanisms,providing internal and external cues that would ordinarily be associated with increased odds of gainingaccess to what Buss and Schmitt (1993) refer to as ‘‘short-term opportunistic copulation.’’Most appetitive systems in the brain, including hunger and thirst, are designed to increase motivation dur-ing times of opportunity (Rolls, 1999), and there is no reason to expect sex to be an exception to the rule.When the brain receives cues that are commonly associated with opportunities for copulation, which wouldinclude experiencing a state of high sexual arousal, we should expect to observe an increase in motivation tohavesex.
Thisincreaseinmotivationshould,inturn,havediverseconsequencesforjudgmentsanddecisions.Consistent with such a prediction, prior research has shown that sexual motivation can distort judgments of the risk of contracting sexually transmitted disease (Blanton & Gerrard, 1997; Ditto, Pizarro, Epstein, Jacob-son, & MacDonald, 2005), and that it leads to steeper time discounting in males (Wilson & Daly, 2004).The next question is whether individuals can correctly estimate the effects of high sexual arousal states ontheir preferences and behavior. Based on prior research on ‘‘hot-cold empathy gaps’’ (Loewenstein, 1996;Loewenstein, O’Donoghue, & Rabin, 2003; Van Boven & Loewenstein, 2003), we anticipated that peoplewho were not aroused would underestimate the influence of emotional arousal on their preferences and deci-sions. Previous research has demonstrated hot-cold empathy gaps across several emotional states. For exam-ple, people who do not own an object underestimate how attached they would be to it and how much moneythey would require to part with the object if they owned it (Loewenstein & Adler, 1995; Van Boven,Dunning, & Loewenstein, 2000). People who are about to exercise predict they would be less botheredby thirst if they were lost without food or water than do people who have just exercised and are thirstyand warm (Van Boven & Loewenstein, 2003). People who are sated because they have just eaten are lesslikely to choose a high-calorie snack to consume at a well-defined time in the future than hungry people whohave not eaten (Read & van Leeuwen, 1998), and people who are hungry because they have not eaten expectto be more interested in eating a plate of spaghetti for breakfast than people who are sated (Gilbert, Gill, &Wilson, 2002). Heroin addicts who are not currently craving because they just received a ‘‘maintenance’’dose of opioid agonist, value getting an extra dose a week later about half as highly as those asked to valuethe extra dose an hour earlier, before they have received their maintenance dose (Giordano et al., 2002). And,in the prior research most obviously relevant to the research reported here, men who are not sexually arousedpredicted they would be less likely to engage in sexually aggressive behavior than men who are sexuallyaroused as a result of viewing photographs of nude women (Loewenstein, Nagin, & Paternoster, 1997).A finding that sexual arousal affects predictions of the individual’s own judgments and behavior would notonly support the idea that arousal influences decision making, but also suggest that people have little insightinto these effects. If peoplewere aware of how their judgments and (hypothetical) decisions were beinginflu-enced by their own state of arousal then they could compensate for such influences in their judgments anddecisions. When not aroused, if they appreciated how being aroused would influence their responses andexpected to be aroused in the situation asked about in the question, they could adjust their answers accord-ingly. The same logic would apply to those who were aroused if they fully appreciated how the arousal wasinfluencing their responses.
We might also expect to observe a commensurate decrease in other dimensions of motivation (see, Brendl, Markman, & Messner,2003).
Journal of Behavioral Decision Making
2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Journal of Behavioral Decision Making
, 19, 87–98 (2006)
The experiment presented below was designed to jointly test if a state of sexual arousal influences thesethree aspects of judgment and choice (preferences for a wide range of sexual stimuli; willingness to engagein morally questionable behavior; and their willingness to engage in unprotected sex), and whether our par-ticipants can accurately predict these influences.THE STUDY
Research participants were given a laptop computer and were asked to answer a series of questions using asmall handheld keypad. The keypad and the program that administered the questions were designed to beoperated easily using only the non-dominant hand. In the control (non-aroused) treatment, subjects answeredthe questions while in their natural, presumably not highly aroused, state. In the arousal treatment, subjectswere first asked to self-stimulate themselves (masturbate), and were presented with the same questions onlyafter they had achieved a high but sub-orgasmic level of arousal.The screen of the computer, as it appeared in the arousal treatment, was divided into three panels, eachwith a different function (see Figure 1). Three keys on the top left corner of the keypad switched betweenthese three panels, with the activated panel indicated on the screen by a bright red border. The panels on the
Figure 1. An illustration of the screen with a non-representative cartoon image. The right panel and the top left panelwere only available in the arousal condition. The keypad below illustrates the controls of the interface
 D. Ariely and G. Loewenstein The Effect of Sexual Arousal on Sexual Decision Making
2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Journal of Behavioral Decision Making
, 19, 87–98 (2006)

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