Regret Expression and Social Learning Increases Delay to Sexual Gratification

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Modification and prevention of risky sexual behavior is important to individuals’ health and public health policy. This study employed a novel sexual discounting task to elucidate the effects of social learning and regret expression on delay to sexual gratification in a behavioral task.


Amazon Mechanical Turk Workers were assigned to hear one of three scenarios about a friend who engages in similar sexual behavior. The scenarios included a positive health consequence, a negative health consequence or a negative health consequence with the expression of regret. After reading one scenario, participants were asked to select from 60 images, those with whom they would have casual sex. Of the selected images, participants chose one image each for the person they most and least want to have sex with and person most and least likely to have a sexually transmitted infection. They then answered questions about engaging in unprotected sex now or waiting some delay for condom-protected sex in each partner condition.


Results indicate that the negative health outcome scenario with regret expression resulted in delayed sexual gratification in the most attractive and least STI partner conditions, whereas in the least attractive and most STI partner conditions the negative health outcome with and without regret resulted in delayed sexual gratification.


Results suggest that the sexual discounting task is a relevant laboratory measure and the framing of information to include regret expression may be relevant for prevention of risky sexual behavior.