Abstract: Empathy, Self-Efficacy, and Decisional Conflict: The Complexity of Consent (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

290P Empathy, Self-Efficacy, and Decisional Conflict: The Complexity of Consent

Friday, January 17, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Adrienne Baldwin-White, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Georgia, GA
Background: Consent is considered the crux of preventing sexual assault. Therefore, it is important to understand how college students perceive consent, and the potential factors that influence their beliefs and actions around consent. Three of those potential factors are self-efficacy, a person’s beliefs about their ability to produce certain outcomes, decisional conflict, a person’s confidence in their ability to make important decisions, and empathy. The current pilot study examines the relationship between self-efficacy, decisional conflict, empathy, and consent. 

Methods: A total of 138 college students at a southern public university responded to an online anonymous survey. The questionnaire included multiple questions about consent, including, “how often, in the past 12 months, have you had sex with someone when they didn’t want to,” on a scale from never to a great deal. They also completed three measures assessing decisional conflict, empathy and self-efficacy. 

Results: Results demonstrate an inverse correlation between self-efficacy and empathy (r=.552, p<.01), and a positive correlation between self-efficacy and decisional conflict (r=.511, p<.01). Self-efficacy had an inverse relationship with having sex when their partner did not want to (r=-.306, p<.05). Empathy had a positive relationship with having sex when their partner did not want to (r=.272, p<.05), and had an inverse relationship with decisional conflict (r=-.295, p<.01). Decisional conflict had a positive relationship with having sex when someone did not want to (r-.272, p<.01). A regression analysis, controlling for gender, demonstrated that decisional conflict was a borderline significant predictor of having sex without their partner wanting to, (F(2, 74)=6.236, p<.10) with R2 =.12.  A moderation analysis also demonstrated a borderline significant interaction between decisional conflict and empathy in predicting having sex when someone did not want to. 

Conclusions and Implications:  The results of this study demonstrate the need to explore the relationship between self-efficacy, empathy, decisional conflict and consent. All three variables correlated with having sex with a willing partner. However, the nature of those relationships between variables indicate the complexity of consent. The more decisional conflict someone had, the less frequent they had sex with a partner who did not want to. One potential explanation is those with decisional conflict may take more time and consideration when making difficult decisions, ensuring they are making the right choice. However, higher empathy leading to higher instances of sex with someone who did not want to was unexpected. Exploring the relationship between empathy and decisional conflict caused more contradictions. According to the correlations, the best outcome would be high decisional conflict and low empathy. However, results of the moderation analysis demonstrated that decisional conflict has more of an impact on frequency of having sex with someone who did not want to when empathy is low. Although the significance was not at .05, the researcher believes that with enough power, results would have demonstrated a significant relationship. The results of this pilot study demonstrate the potential to understand concepts that can be targeted in a sexual assault prevention program that may have a positive influence on education and awareness about consent.