In the heat of the moment, people often impulsively take risks. Having unprotected sex, for example, can result in sexually transmitted infections. In three studies, we investigated a possible explanation for the increased sexual risk propensity of people in an impulsive state. In contrast to the intuitively appealing notion that they are less influenced by their long-term goals, we hypothesized and showed that people in both impulsive and reflective states make less risky sexual decisions when health goals are important. We further showed that, when sexual health goals are important, people in a reflective state make riskier sexual decisions as temptations become stronger, while decisions of people in an impulsive state were not influenced by temptation strength. This supports the counterintuitive prediction that people in an impulsive state are better able to cope with strong temptations than people in a reflective state.
Bibliographical noteAcknowledgement: We would like to thank Stephen Card for copy-editing earlier versions of this article.
- Cognitive states
- Sexual risk decisions