When the End (Automatically) Justifies the Means: Automatic Tendency Toward Sex Exchange for Crack Cocaine

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The current research explores the idea that self-defeating behaviors represent means toward individuals’ goals. In this quality, they may be automatically initiated upon goal activation without individual’s voluntary intention and thus exemplify the long-held idea that the end justifies the means. To investigate this notion empirically we explored one of the most problematic self-defeating behavior: engagement in sex exchange for crack cocaine. This behavior is common among female drug users despite its well-known health and legal consequences. Although these women know and understand the consequences of such behavior, they have a hard time resisting it when the goal of drug obtainment becomes accessible. Indeed, the current study shows that when the accessibility of such a goal is experimentally increased, participants for whom sex exchange represents an instrumental means to drug obtainment are faster to approach sex-exchange targets in a joystick task despite their self-reported intentions to avoid such behavior.

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