In the heat of the moment: the unconscious effects of sexual arousal and alcohol consumption on sexual risk behaviour

In the heat of the moment: the unconscious effects of sexual arousal and alcohol consumption on sexual risk behaviour


We know when we shouldn’t do something, and yet we still do it. The question is why? This also applies to unsafe sex. Most people know they should use a condom, but in the heat of the moment they choose not to. This research project aims to identify impulses, such as alcohol consumption and sexual arousal, that influence a negative or positive decision. This is a new approach, because previously, researchers generally studied post-analysis findings.

Project details

Time frame
31 October 2012 - 01 May 2017
€ 249,895
Active in


The proposed research investigates impulsive psychological factors in sexual risk behavior. Specifically, the association is experimentally investigated between different levels of sexual risk behavior and
1. Reflective and impulsive associations of unprotected penetration with valence and arousal;
2. Reflective and impulsive approach-avoidance tendencies; and
3. Reflective and impulsive decision-making processes.
Moreover, the aim is to experimentally investigate the effects of state sexual arousal, of intoxication due to alcohol use, and of working memory capacity on the balance of reflective vs. impulsive cognition, motivational tendencies, and decision making. Finally, we will test the efficacy of two novel interventions that aim to reduce the impact of impulsive cognitions on sexual risk behavior.

This could improve safe sexual behavior.

Community groups

general population, prevention


Still every year new hiv infections occur, while in theory people know how to prevent hiv infection.

Available interventions to reduce unsafe sexual behavior are thus far embedded in theories (Theory of Reasoned Action, Self-Regulation Theory, Social-Cognitive Theory) proposing explicit/reflective cognitive processes as crucial causal factors, but this appears not to suffice, considering the alarming rates of continued unsafe sexual behavior in HIV-infected individuals. It is hypothesized that there is an essential role of impulsive cognition in the executive control of unsafe sexual behavior. uses cookies to offer the best website experience possible and to anonymously analyze website behaviour. More information.