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Preventing the Next Sext: A Behavioral Economic Approach to Understanding Non-consensual Nude Photo Sharing Decisions in a High School Community

NCJ Number
Katherine M. Ingram
Date Published
March 2023
95 pages

This dissertation describes a study aimed at understanding the behavioral mechanisms that underlie sexting and providing a behavioral measurement of sexting risk in a behavioral economic framework.


The author addresses the trend among adolescents of sexting, or sending or receiving sexually explicit or suggestive images or videos via any cyber platform, and notes that between 12 and 27 percent of adolescents report involvement as either a recipient or participant. The author argues that prevention strategies are atheoretical and measurement is insufficient, and seeks to address the issue by understanding the underlying behavioral mechanisms of sexting and by providing a behavioral measurement of sexting risk through a behavioral economic framework. The author employed a sample of 213 high-school students from a Chicago-area high school; in the dissertation, the author addresses the three research aims by using cross-sectional quantitative and qualitative data. The three aims were as follows: examine current real-world sexting prevalence rates, types, and context characteristics by utilizing survey methods that yield in-depth quantitative and qualitative data; examine social discounting of preferential and popular peers as predictors of real-world self-reported sexting behavior; and test a novel Sext Discounting Task to capture hypothetical sexting choices. The author notes that, from a measurement perspective, the findings support social discounting choice-paradigm discounting tasks as a feasible option for youth, and their virtual adaptability, emphasizing that the research study was intended to study a basic social process and ideally yield a basis for the creation of sustainable and effective interventions, but it does not justify immediate use of social discounting paradigms to screen for potential future violence. The author recommends that future research consider building a nuanced understanding of overlapping constructs labeled popularity, and the trends in roles it plays in motivating social behavior.