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Preventing the next sext: A behavioral economic approach to understanding nude photo sharing decisions in a high school community

Award Information

Award #
Funding Category
Competitive Discretionary
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2020, $100,000)

The applicant proposes to examine adolescent decision-making regarding sexting;the sending or receiving of sexually explicit or suggestive images or video via any cyber platform, which may constitute child pornography crimes. The purpose is to aid prevention with a better understanding of the mechanisms that underlie sexting, and a behavioral economic framework for more valid sexting measures. As a measure of how prosocial behavior depends on social distance, social discounting is defined as the decrease in generosity between the decision-maker and the recipient as the social distance increases. The student will recruit 400 students (aged 14 to 18 years) from two Chicago high schools in partnership with Bulldog Solution, an organization that provides in-school bullying prevention curricula. In experimental social discounting paradigms, participants choose between a large amount of money for themselves or a smaller amount split with another person of varying social distance. The study will employ the original monetary task to measure discounting rates across preference and popularity dimensions, and a novel adaptation of the task using hypothetical sexting choices rather than monetary values. Pending passive consent, subjects will participate after school in an online survey that employs hypothetical choices to assess the likelihood of forwarding sexts, which depict either friends or those perceived as popular/ socially influential to test social discounting. Questions about identity and past behaviors will be supplemented by open-ended ones to apply grounded theory, “a qualitative inquiry framework that allows for participants to offer their unfiltered experience of a phenomenon” for open coding (identifying themes) and axial coding (applying themes to code the full dataset). The incentive is a $5 gift card for a 45-minute online survey via Qualtrics, and no data identifiable to the respondent will be collected. Survey data will be analyzed for sexting prevalence rates, types, and context characteristics using descriptive statistics, top-down analysis (identity groups means), and ground-up analysis (latent class analysis). Social discounting theories of preferential and popular peers as a predictor of sexting behavior will be tested using receiving operator curve (ROC) analysis, e.g., what is the accuracy of a social discounting rate in predicting past behavior? They will validate the Adapted Sext Discounting Task by examining within-individual correlations of sext discount rates with the original discounting task (given that individuals have varying trait-level capacities for altruism and social dominance). Questions include: Do the participant’s preference and popularity ratings of the peer pictured in a hypothetical sext systematically predict whether the participant would forward it? To what extent do scores obtained on this measure correlate with Spreference and Spopularity obtained on the original Social Discounting Task? Dissemination plans include three peer-reviewed manuscripts, and conference presentations such as the Society for Prevention Research Annual Meeting. A findings report will be made available to the partner and the school’s administration to inform future directions in student programming.

Note: This project contains a research and/or development component, as defined in applicable law, and complies with Part 200 Uniform Requirements - 2 CFR 200.210(a)(14). CA/NCF

Date Created: September 20, 2020