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Schmälzle, R.; Imhof, M. A.; Kenter, A.; Renner, B. & Schupp, H. T.

Impressions of HIV risk online: Brain potentials while viewing online dating profiles

Schmälzle, R., Imhof, M. A., Kenter, A., Renner, B., & Schupp, H. T. (2019). Impressions of HIV risk online: Brain potentials while viewing online dating profiles. Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci 19, 1203–1217 (2019).

There is an increasing trend to use online dating to meet potential partners. Previous studies in off-line contexts indicate that people may judge the risk of sexually transmitted infections based on a person’s appearance. Online dating profiles commonly present profile pictures and verbal self-descriptions. To examine the integration of verbal and visual risk information, the current event-related potential (ERP) study used a simulated dating platform in which verbal-descriptive information (low vs. high verbal risk) was presented, followed by a photograph (low vs. high visual risk). Results indicated main effects of verbal and visual risk. Specifically, high-risk compared with low-risk verbal profiles elicited a relative negative shift over occipitoparietal sensor sites between 260 ms and 408 ms. Furthermore, a sustained occipital negativity (132–500 ms) and central positivity (156–272 ms) was observed for high as compared with low visual risk profiles. There was also evidence for the integration of verbal and visual risk formation, as indicated by distinct positive ERP shift occurred between 272 ms and 428 ms over anterior temporal regions when a high-risk photograph was preceded by high-risk verbal information. This suggests that verbal-descriptive information is integrated with visual appearance early in the processing stream. The distinct response for high verbal and visual information extends the notion of an alarm function ascribed to risk perception by demonstrating integration about multiple sources. Simulating online dating platforms provides a useful tool to examine intuitive risk perception.