The effects of acute alcohol consumption, cognitive reserve, partner risk, and gender on sexual decision making.

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Title

Journal of Studies on Alcohol

Publication Date


Date Added



Objective: In past alcohol administration studies, intoxicated college students have been more willing to have unprotected sex with a hypothetical new partner than sober or placebo students. The objective of the present research was to extend past work by examining the effects of gender, cognitive reserve, and partner risk on intoxicated sexual decision making. Method: Before assigning participants (60 women and 60 men) to a drink condition, cognitive reserve was assessed with the reading subtest of the Wide Range Achievement Test 3 (WRAT3). After drinking, participants watched a video of a male and female college student in a sexual situation. There were two versions of the video that were identical, except for information that suggested the opposite-gender character had many past sexual partners or only a few. Results: There was a significant interaction between drink condition and cognitive reserve such that intoxicated participants with lower WRAT3 scores were more likely than other participants to indicate that they would have unprotected sex if they were in this situation. Partner risk did not influence participants' willingness to have unprotected sex; however, they were less interested in dating the high-risk partner. Conclusions: As expected, participants with less cognitive reserve made riskier decisions when intoxicated. Unexpectedly, although participants clearly perceived the high- and low-risk partners differently, this did not affect their willingness to have unprotected sex with this hypothetical partner. These findings demonstrate the need for sexually transmitted disease/ HIV prevention programs that go beyond factual presentations and provide students with the skills they need to assess risk realistically and the need for programs with messages tailored for individuals with low cognitive skills.






Public Health

Comments/Extra Notes

Additional author: Hayman, Lenwood W