Doctoral Student Fellowship

Ahna Suleiman, School of Public Health

The Role of Emotion in Adolescent Sexual Decision-Making



A primary reason that adolescent sex education fails to change behavior stems from the fact that the current theoretical foundation asserts that sexual decision-making is primarily a rational, deliberative process. While existing research has demonstrated the general link between emotions and decision-making, additional research is needed to understand the specific role emotions play in the context of adolescent sexual decision-making. Integrating research from the fields of public health, psychology, behavioral economics, and neuroeconomics, this dissertation will explore how the direction and magnitude of emotions during decision-making influence adolescent behavior in general and sexual behavior specifically. Moving beyond a rational decision-making model, this research will employ a youth positive, sex positive approach and explore the impact of emotional weighting on adolescent (age 15-19 years) sexual decision-making. The study will consist of two components: 1) Exploratory, semi-structured, grounded-theory interviews with adolescents exploring affective weighting and sexual decision-making, and 2) A computer-based risk-taking game to explore how unanticipated negative emotions influence personal risk-taking and risk-taking advice to others among adolescents. This mixed-method study is designed to inform the development of a model that bridges theories on decision making and affective weighting related to adolescent sexual decision making.