SYMBOLIC SOCIAL BONDS MAY REDUCE THE NEGATIVE EFFECTS OF SELF-CONTROL DEPLETION ON RISKY SEXUAL BEHAVIOR

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2022-12-15

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Abstract

Impulsivity and lack of self-control predict risky sexual behavior, contributing to negative outcomes for sexual health. To restore self-control, and thus potentially decrease sexual risk taking, people can engage with symbolic social bonds–unacquainted, fictional, or non-human entities that can be used as a complement to “real,” or traditional, human relationships. If symbolic social bonds can restore self-control, they may also buffer against the negative effects of self-control depletion on risky sexual behavior. Accordingly, I expected that engaging in effortful self-control on a given day would predict risky sexual behavior later that day, consistent with a self-control depletion effect. However, I expected that using symbolic social bonds would prevent risky sexual behavior after enacting effortful tasks, consistent with a self-control restoration effect. In the current set of analyses, the main effects of effortful tasks on risky sexual behavior were not significant, but the benefits of different types of symbolic social bonds on risky sexual behavior were partially supported. Analysis Set 1 revealed that immersion in narrative social worlds for restoration motives after enacting effortful tasks reduced the likelihood of engaging in risky sexual behavior. Analysis Sets 2 and 3 revealed potential benefits of parasocial relationships and non-human entities for people with low self-esteem and people with a high general tendency to anthropomorphize, respectively, but these benefits were mostly independent of self-control restoration processes. Finally, Analysis Set 4 revealed that using reminders of others reduced participation in risky sexual behavior after engaging in effortful tasks for people with high attachment anxiety. Therefore, symbolic social bonds may offer useful means to prevent risky sexual behavior, but each type of symbolic social bond may do so for different people under different circumstances.

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Keywords

Symbolic social bonds, Transportation, Narrative social worlds, Parasocial relationships, Anthropomorphism, Comfort food, Self-control, Risky sexual behavior

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