New York, Oct 17: Contrary to how they are sometimes portrayed in the media, young adults tend to make highly rational decisions when it comes to selecting potential romantic partners.
Young adults appear to consider both the risks and benefits of their sexual behaviour in a highly consistent and thoughtful manner, said the study published in the journal Psychological Science.
“There is a tendency to view sexual decision making in young adults as a highly variable and somewhat random process, more influenced by hormones or impulsivity than rational processes,” said lead author of the study Laura Hatz, a doctoral candidate at the University of Missouri in the US.
“Our study suggests, however, that young adults are highly consistent in their choices, balancing potential partners’ level of attractiveness against the potential risk for sexually transmitted infection.”
The research involved presenting 257 participants with hypothetical “sexual gambles” in which a photo of a potential partner’s face was shown alongside an associated, though purely hypothetical, risk of contracting a sexually transmitted infection.
Nearly all participants in the study made consistently rational choices, as defined by established models of psychological behaviour.
Prior research has shown that, in general, individuals tend to use what are known as heuristic decision strategies — cognitive shortcuts that may ignore some information — to make choices in life.
Hatz and her colleagues found that even individuals who could be identified as classic heuristic decision makers for monetary-based choices became rational decision makers when similar choices were framed as sexual choices.