Scenes of extensive risk taking are frequent on college campuses, as well as the communities in which they are housed. Heavy alcohol use is common among the students in these communities (Wechsler, Lee, Kuo, &Lee, 2000), as are a variety of risk behaviors, including risky sexual practices (see Cooper, 2002 for a review). Risky sexual behavior poses an especially potent risk for young adults due to the potential for exposure to HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (SAMHSA, 2007). Although alcohol use may be globally associated with risky sexual behavior, the role of acute alcohol intoxication in causing sexual risk behavior is less clear (George et al., 2009;George &Stoner, 2000). Associations between intoxication and risky behavior are complex, and further research is needed to clarify mechanisms linking intoxication and risky choice. The alcohol myopia model predicts that, due to alcohol's impact on attention, the behavior of intoxicated individuals who experience inhibition conflict will become increasingly directed by salient cues in the individual's environment (Steele &Josephs, 1990). Physiological arousal has similar effects on behavior, increasing dependence on salient environmental cues (Ward et al., 2008). Delay discounting may be one mechanism that accounts for risky sexual behavior and is a task that has been shown to be sensitive to the acute effects of alcohol (Reynolds et al., 2006). Discounting of delayed rewards may be increased by both alcohol and physiological arousal due to their common effects of narrowing attention to immediately salient cues. The proposed experiment will test effects of intoxication and physiological arousal on analogue sexual risk behavior and delay discounting. A path model will test indirect effects of intoxication and physiological arousal (and their interaction) on sexual risk behavior via delay discounting. To accomplish this, the proposed research will employ a 3 (alcohol intoxication, alcohol placebo, control) x 2 (high, low arousal) experimental design using a real-time delay discounting task and an analogue task of sexual risk taking as outcomes. The long-term goal of this project is to advance theoretical understanding of the effects of alcohol on decision- making processes and risk behavior. Improving our understanding of acute alcohol influences on decision- making processes can meaningfully inform future prevention programs. To achieve these goals, the proposed fellowship includes the following training components: (a) developing the applicant's scientific writing skills and productivity, (b) increasing the applicant's knowledge of alcohol research with an emphasis on mechanisms linking alcohol intoxication and psychosocial problems, and (c) further building the applicant's methodological and data analytic skills. Fellowship support will be used to enable focused study of alcohol research through mentorship, course work, applied experience, and guided reading. In addition, the fellowship will support learning new methodological and data analytic skills through mentoring, working with existing data, and course work. Lastly, the fellowship will support engagement with the scientific community through presentations at national conferences, collaboration with other alcohol researchers, and acquiring review experience.

Public Health Relevance

implications for the proposed project include an improved understanding of alcohol intoxication and other acute states that can lead to risky sexual practices, increasing the risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV. Further implications include identification of mechanisms underlying preference for immediate rewards and examining associations between discounting of future rewards and risky choice. Enhanced understanding of mechanisms linking alcohol intoxication and risk behavior can inform prevention and intervention efforts.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F31)
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Health Services Research Review Subcommittee (AA)
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Grakalic, Ivana
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University of South Dakota
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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