Risky decisions despite counter evidence: modeling a culture of safer sexual practices.

Academic Article


  • To create a culture of safe practices, we need to understand how and under what conditions the public makes risky decisions about their health. Because risky sexual behaviors are known to be common in young adults, we investigated their decision making regarding sexual activities that could incur a high risk of HIV infection. Sixty young urban adults maintained journals for two weeks and were interviewed regarding condom use and sexual history. We characterized four patterns of condom use behavior: consistent (35.0%), inconsistent (16.7%), consistent to inconsistent (35.0%), and inconsistent to consistent (13.3%). Directionality of reasoning was analyzed in the explanations provided for condom use decisions. The consistent and inconsistent patterns were associated with data-driven heuristic reasoning, where behavior becomes automated and is associated with a high level of confidence in one's judgment. In the other two patterns, the shift in behavior was due to a significant event that influenced a change in directionality to explanation-based reasoning. We discuss these results within the framework of identifying potentially high-risk groups for whom customized intervention strategies (such as computer-based educational programs) can be used to reduce risk, thereby creating a culture of safer sexual practices.
  • Authors

    Author List

  • Patel VL; Yoskowitz NA; Kaufman DR; Gutnik LA; Shortliffe EH
  • Start Page

  • 594
  • End Page

  • 598