Oh, the things people will do when they are horny

In high school, I read a book on behavioral economics called Predictably Irrational. It’s by a pretty popular figure within behavioral economics named Dan Ariely[W]. I liked the book a lot. He basically goes through a few different studies he’s done over time and shows how humans behave under different circumstances, as well as various things companies could create to help calm irrational people down.

There are only a couple of things that have really stuck with me over time. He had an idea a while back to create a credit card that, if you tried to buy something at certain stores, it would tell you to wait half an hour before buying, or would limit your spending at certain stores that you could select within an app, maybe. He ended up pitching this to credit card companies and their response is about what you could expect: such a thing loses them money, so they wouldn’t create it. The other thing that stuck with me is a study he did on the decisions people make when they’re horny.

Here’s the study:

Ariely, D., & Loewenstein, G. (2006). The heat of the moment: The effect of sexual arousal on sexual decision making. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 19(2), 87–98. https://doi.org/10.1002/bdm.501

I’ll shortly summarize the study here. They took a sample of 35 college students and gave them a questionnaire when they were allegedly in a neutral/non-horny state which covered a lot of sexual topics ranging from small things like if they would still have sex if they didn’t have a condom on them to some pretty big things like if they would rape someone. Then they needed to get the participants horny; shouldn’t be too difficult for college kids. They had the students masturbate to graphic images and rate themselves on how aroused they were as they masturbated. Once they “had achieved a high but sub-orgasmic level of arousal” they answered the questionnaire another time. No one ended up ejaculating, but if they did they could simply press tab on the computer to tell the researchers.

Thanks to a within-subject design, they avoided the issue of differential study dropout between the conditions. The sample was fairly small, which was disappointing. But, since it is experimental and the differences achieved were statistically significant, it’s not as big of a deal – it does need replication, however. But anyways, the question we’ve all been waiting for, did the horny kids want to rape people more than the non-horny ones? Yes, they did. Results below.

You don’t wanna see college students when they’re horny

Let’s start with the less taboo stuff, aka Table 4. Generally, college students liked condoms less when they were aroused and seemed to care less about the possibility of an STI. This shouldn’t run much counter to our expectations. Table 2 starts off light asking about the attractiveness of women’s shoes, but very quickly gets taboo. When college students were asked “Can you imagine being attracted to a 12-year-old girl?” 23 percent reported yes when not aroused; this doubled when they were aroused. Even bestiality became more attractive at a statistically significant level (p<0.02) but not to a large degree. Horny people seem to like bondage and threesomes more. Moving on to the most fucked up practically interesting table: college students were 400 percent more likely to slip women a drug in their drink to increase the chances they had sex, over twice as likely to keep trying to have sex after the date says no, and nearly two times as likely to tell their date they loved them in order to have sex.

I really like this study, despite some its limitations, quoted from them below:

we have no way to ascertain whether respondents’ predictions of their own behaviors are more accurate when subjects respond under treatments of arousal or non-arousal. Based on previous research on hot-cold empathy gaps (Bouffard, 2002; Loewenstein, Nagin, & Paternoster, 1997), which shows that people often mispredict how they would behave in an affective state different from the one they are in, we suspect that behavioral predictions made under states of arousal more accurately predict behavior in the heat of the moment than do predictions made when respondents are not aroused. However, without observing actual behavior in the situations we ask about, we have no ability to ascertain whether this is in fact the case.
A third limitation concerns the lack of control that we had over the experimental setting. We had subjects conduct the experiment in the privacy of their own residence so as to provide privacy and reduce inhibitions, but this limited our ability to ensure that they carefully and conscientiously carried out the instructions. Indeed, our initial expectations were that at least some of the subjects in the arousal condition would indicate by pressing the tab key that they had accidentally ejaculated, but none did. Finally, our experimental setup did not allow us to measure subjects’ arousal using physiological methods, so we instead relied on selfreports of arousal, which have been shown to be fallible (Janssen, 2002). . . .
Yet a fourth limitation is that the study focused only on men, so it is possible that the observed effects do not generalize to women. Baumeister, Catanese, and Vohs (2001) concluded from multiple sources of evidence that the male sex drive is more intense and uncompromising than the female, and it is at least, in principle, possible that the lesser intensity of the female sex drive entails that women would not be (or not as much) affected by sexual arousal in their decisions. The present work shows that sexual arousal changes the way males would make sexual decisions, but without further data it is not safe to assume that women would show the same pattern.

Still, they follow,

Clearly, there are many ways in which the experimental design could be improved, though we suspect that design changes intended to eliminate existing shortcomings would inevitably introduce new ones.

Anyways, this is just an interesting study I remembered and wanted to blog about. Their social recommendation, one which I agree with based on the results of this study, is that when promoting safe sex, we need to make specific accommodations for the “heat of the moment” factor that arises when people are aroused and find and teach ways that will limit self-destructive behavior. We should avoid purely teaching people to use their willpower as this is “likely to be ineffective in the face of the dramatic cognitive and motivational changes caused by arousal.”

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