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Published on 9. Authors of this article:. Background: Sexually transmitted infection STI rates are on the rise among adolescents and young adults in the United States. With the popularity of online dating, adolescents and young adults must increasingly rely on limited cues to make initial judgments about potential sexual partners, including judgments about STI risk. Objective: This study aimed to assess whether in the context of online dating, an attractiveness heuristic would be used for STI risk assessment. We hypothesized that consistent with research on halo effects, decision makers would judge more attractive people to be less likely to have STIs.
Methods: In a survey experiment, we asked participants to determine which individual in each of 20 sets of paired photographs was enrolled in a personals website for people with publicly disclosed STIs. : Despite financial incentives for accuracy and high levels of self-confidence in their judgments, participants performed no better than chance at identifying individuals with self-reported STIs.
Contrary to our hypothesis, however, more attractive people were judged as being more likely to have an STI. Conclusions: On showing adolescents and young adults photographs offering no diagnostic information about STIs, they appeared to use attractiveness as a cue for sexual risk, which was mediated by the belief that attractive individuals have more sexual opportunities.
Health care providers may wish to address this heuristic process among their adolescent patients in discussions about sexual health. In the United States, sexually transmitted infections STIs are increasingly among the most commonly reported diseases, with the total cases of STIs reaching a historical high in [ 12 ]. Young adults and adolescents are at particular risk [ 2 ]. Public health officials have suggested that online dating and use of dating apps may play critical roles in this burgeoning problem. Stds and dating apps half of the users of popular dating apps are in the highest STI age bracket under 25 years [ 3 ].
In a recent study, among a sample of young adults using dating apps, those who transitioned from a profile view to having an in-person date had higher self-reported rates of risky sexual behavior than those who did not transition to face-to-face interactions [ 6 ].
Beneath the photographs are profiles that might be consulted for those who pass such initial screening. Attractiveness can be a valid cue for predicting disfiguring STIs eg, advanced syphilis. On the Stds and dating apps hand, for the far more frequent cases of asymptomatic STIs, attractiveness provides no directly relevant information. However, attractiveness could provide indirectly relevant information if it is correlated with risk factors, such as of sexual partners, frequency of sex, Stds and dating apps to health care, and use of condoms.
Existing Stds and dating apps offers conflicting evidence regarding the roles of attractiveness judgment in inferences regarding STI risk. Some studies found that when asked explicitly, young people expect more attractive individuals to have greater STI risk, reasoning that they will have more opportunities for varied sexual activities and be more promiscuous [ 1011 ]. A large body of studies, however, suggested the opposite. There is also strong evidence that people seen as more attractive are also viewed as more intelligent, academically and socially competent, politically knowledgeable, and cooperative [ 18 - 23 ].
This halo effect is present for visual judgments of both male and female individuals and remains in place once individuals have interacted with one another. In this study, we created such a context experimentally in order to examine whether attractiveness is a cue for risk when young people make judgments from photographic cues alone. We also examined their confidence and accuracy. We Stds and dating apps that people making quick judgments about potential dating partners in online dating profiles would apply an attractiveness heuristic. Namely, they would perceive attractive individuals as less likely to have an STI.
studies of perceived STI risk have typically asked participants to make inferences from multiple sometimes contradictory cues [ 1012 ] or have asked them to evaluate attractiveness and risk simultaneously, with explanation of their inferences [ 10 - 1324 ]. Our study adds to this research by examining rapid judgments based on visual cues alone, with no prompt for reasoned inferences. Its have implications for online dating contexts and, more generally, for the connections between fast and slow thinking [ 25 ]. The judgment is which of the two pictures has been drawn from a website for people with self-disclosed STIs.
To develop this test set of photographs, we had a separate sample rate the target in each photograph in terms of attractiveness and several factors that might mediate the relationship with STI risk of sexual partners [as a proxy for STI exposure], intelligence, frequency of condom use, and decision-making competence [potentially protecting from exposure].
They were eligible for the rating study if they self-identified as heterosexual, were at least 18 years of age, and self-reported not being in a romantic relationship. Photographs were drawn from profiles of residents across the United States. All photographs showed someone who identified as being between the ages of 18 and 25 years and heterosexual in their original online dating profile.
Each individual was photographed looking directly at the camera. Photographs were cropped square aspect ratio to show only the neck and face and to minimize surrounding visuals. Photographs were all in color and were selected by two independent research assistants as having a pleasant or neutral facial expression. All photographs were publicly available, and use of the photographs complied with the terms of service of the websites at the time that the stimulus photographs were gathered.
Although the photographs, by their nature, identified the individuals depicted, they were obtained from national sources; hence, there was a very low probability of including individuals known to the participants.
The sources of the photographs Stds and dating apps not revealed to the participants. There were 96 photographs in total 48 photographs of male individuals and 48 of female individuals. Each photograph was rated by 10 raters.
Each rater judged 12 unique, randomly selected, opposite-sex photographs. Photographs were rated on physical attractiveness 1 [very unattractive] to 7 [very attractive]according to the approach in other studies on facial attractiveness [ 2627 ]. Photographs were also rated on the following three risk-related characteristics drawn from prior studies [ 15 ], which could be protective against sexual risk: 1 intelligence 1 [not at all intelligent] to Stds and dating apps [very intelligent]2 competence 1 [foolish] to 7 [sensible]and 3 condom use with a new partner 1 [never] to 7 [always].
Additionally, photographs were rated on the following factor that could increase sexual risk: likelihood of multiple sexual partners 1 [not at all likely] to 7 [very likely]. Raters used the entire 7-point Likert scale. The average attractiveness score in ratings of photographs of male individuals ranged from 1.
Individuals judged as more attractive were given higher ratings on the three protective factors intelligence, frequency of condom use, and competent decision-making and one risk factor multiple sexual partners. Our study included 87 participants 55 male and 32 female participants recruited from a private university student participant pool using online postings and recruited on the street in a high foot-traffic neighborhood housing multiple universities both public and private with a posted outside a research laboratory.
Participants recruited from the university student participant pool were ed a link to the study. Participants recruited on the street outside the laboratory completed the study on a computer inside a private cubicle.
Participants were shown 20 pairs of photographs 10 pairs of male individuals and 10 pairs of female individuals drawn from the prerated photograph set. One photograph in each pair was drawn from a personals website for people who have publicly disclosed an STI. The other photograph was drawn from a dating website without that disclosure.
Participants were told about the two websites and the photograph sampling procedure. They were also asked to assume that people from the non-STI disclosure website had the same rate of STIs as the general population. For each pair, one photograph was randomly sampled from Stds and dating apps site and ased randomly to the right- or left-hand Stds and dating apps.
This amount was selected to provide an incentive for accuracy without compromising the rapid judgment process. Such incentives have been found to increase attention without reducing errors attributable to heuristic use [ 28 ]. For those who completed the study online, the primary researcher evaluated responses for accuracy and ed the participants about their payment, which was collected from another researcher.
Although this researcher could infer the of correct responses from the payment amount, there was no information about which stimuli a participant had seen. The data were fully deidentified upon payment and prior to the analysis. After completing the task, participants answered questions about their relationship and sexual history, including binary response questions, such as Are you currently in a romantic relationship?
The study, including the acquisition and use of stimuli, was approved by the Institutional Review Board IRB of Carnegie Mellon University, which deated the study as posing minimal risk. To ensure the privacy of the individuals in the photographs, we have not made their images publicly available. Our code, survey, and stimuli rating data set are available publicly [ 29 ]. Of the 87 participants, 74 identified as heterosexual, 12 as homosexual or bisexual, and one did not respond. The participants ranged in age from Stds and dating apps to 56 years, with a mean age of Each of the 87 participants made 20 judgments about which individual in a pair of photographs was more likely to have an STI.
Assuming an effective sample size of 87, the statistical power is 0. Thus, in aggregate, participants were overconfident, expecting more correct identifications than were observed. The following three models were created:. Models in Table 2 are indexed by participant i and photograph pair j.
The dependent variable y ij was coded as 1 if participant i selected the photograph on the right from photograph pair j and as 0 otherwise.
Each model used the logit function to relate p ijthe modeled probability that participant i selects the right photograph in pair j as having an STI, to characteristics of the photograph and the participant. Model 3 M 3 adds additional individual-level covariates. For all models, we used the Nelder-Mead optimizer from the lme4 package in R for estimation.
As seen in Table 2model 1 found that as the difference in attractiveness increases, participants are more likely to identify the more attractive individual as having been drawn from the STI website. This relationship held when, in model 2, the actual website was added to the equation, with that information not adding ificant predictive power consistent with participants predicting the actual website at chance level.
We used binary mixed logit models to assess the role of other features of the photographs, using pretest sample ratings Multimedia Appendix 1 added to models Table 3. As seen in Table 3model 4 found Stds and dating apps the difference in target-perceived intelligence added no predictive power. Model 5 found that the difference in the ratings of condom use added predictive power, without affecting the relationship with attractiveness.
Model 6 found that the difference in the ratings of the targets having multiple partners added predictive power as well, with attractiveness no longer playing a role. Young adults and adolescents engaging in online dating have to generate quick intuitive judgments when making choices about their interactions with potential sexual partners. Like other decision makers, when they lack statistical estimates, they may rely on heuristics to judge risk [ 30 ]. Online dating invites such heuristic judgments in decisions about engaging others as potential sexual partners.
In this study, we examined the potential role of an attractiveness heuristic in sexual risk judgment by asking participants to Stds and dating apps which of two Stds and dating apps came from a website for individuals with self-reported STIs. We did find that attractiveness predicts judgments about STI risk. Instead, attractiveness appeared to be used as a cue for higher sexual risk. Analyses incorporating other variables led us to an alternative post hoc explanation, which is consistent with research findings that attractive people are perceived as more sexually promiscuous [ 1011 ].
Whatever processes guided their judgments, participants were unable to predict which photographs were drawn from the website with STI disclosure, despite incentives for accuracy. Moreover, they showed overconfidence that is typical of difficult tasks [ 31 ]. Their predictions were related to the normatively valid cue of whether the target was rated by the pretest sample as someone likely to use condoms and, perhaps, with greater intelligence Table 3.
However, those perceptions appeared to reflect judgments of attractiveness, suggesting sound inferences based on unsound assumptions Multimedia Appendix 1. As seen in model 6 Table 3inferences reflecting attractiveness appear to be subsumed by inferences regarding multiple sexual partners.
Our study had several notable limitations. First, photograph pretesting was limited to judgments by male and female individuals identifying as heterosexual. Thus, it is possible that the attractiveness ratings for these photographs did not reflect the perceptions of the mixed heterosexual and bisexual participants in our experimental study sample. However, there is evidence that judgments of attractiveness of same and other-sex individuals differ by gender but not sexual orientation [ 32 ].
To the best of our knowledge, there is no analogous evidence regarding judgments of STI Stds and dating apps and our sample size did not allow subanalyses by sexual orientation. Understanding how such judgments relate to sexual orientation is a topic for future research, and it is particularly relevant given the popularity of dating apps among gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men, as well as their higher risk of contracting STIs [ 2 ].
Within the constraints of our sample, STI predictions were unrelated to gender, gender match with photographs, age, or self-reported STIs Table 2. Our did not differ by age group; however, the lack of age-based exclusion in our recruitment procedures should be noted when interpreting the findings in the pediatric context. Moreover, by advertising the topic, as well as recruiting some participants in person, we may have biased the recruited sample.
The large representation of sexually inexperienced individuals is unlike Stds and dating apps sex-related research [ 33 - 35 ] and higher than reports in national samples of this age group [ 36 ]. We cannot predict how this or other selection processes might have influenced our. We attempted to focus participants on the images, rather than the individuals in them, by presenting targets who participants would never meet and by providing financial incentives for accuracy.
This approach deprived participants of both valid and invalid cues available in everyday life, the most important of which may be the website on which the photograph appeared. Thus, our suggest a form of heuristic thinking that young people may use, without indicating its power or prevalence. Romantic interest in a target has been found to be driven primarily by sexual attractiveness [ 35 ].
Using an experimental task that involved rapid judgments of photographs, we found that judgments of STI risk were related to both relevant risk factors and the irrelevant cue of attractiveness.Stds and dating apps
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Use of dating sites and applications by women and their risk of sexually transmitted infections: a systematic review and meta-analysis protocol