Mental Health and Hooking Up: A Self-Discrepancy Perspective

  • Elizabeth Victor Duke University


One hundred seventy-two undergraduates took part in a study to evaluate how self-concept discrepancies and casual sexual involvement, both as independent and additive factors, predict negative and positive affect. Hierarchical regression analyses demonstrated that actual-ideal (AI) and actual-ought (AO) discrepancy were negatively associated with positive affect after engaging in hookups, defined as casual sexual encounters. However, the degree to which self-discrepancy predicted positive and negative affect varied by gender. Females with high AI discrepancy, who typically engaged in petting during hookups, reported increased negative affect, β = -.24, p < .001, while their male peers reported increased positive affect, β = .63, p < .01. Overall, self-discrepancy appeared to have a distinct and strong association with the sexual practices of young adults in this study and their subsequent positive and negative affect associated with these sexual practices.


Bird, S. R. (1996). Welcome to the men’s club: Homosociality and the maintenance of hegemonic masculinity. Gender and Society, 10, 120-132. doi: 10.1177/089124396010002002

Boldero, J., & Francis, J. (2000). The relation between self discrepancies and emotion: The moderating roles of self-guide importance, location relevance, and social self domain centrality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78, 38–52. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.78.1.38

DeLamater, J., & MacCorquodale, P. (1979). Premarital sexuality: Attitudes, relationships, behavior. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.

Downey, L., Ryan, R., Roffman, R., & Kulich, M. (1995). How could I forget? Inaccurate memories of sexually intimate moments. The Journal of Sex Research, 32(3), 177-191.

Eisenberg, M.E, Ackard, D.M., Resnick, M.D., & Neumark-Sztainer, D.N. (2009). Casual sex and psychological health among young adults: Is having “friends with benefits” emotionally damaging? Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 41(4), 231-237. doi: 10.1363/4123109

England, P., Shafer, E.F., & Fogarty, A.C. (2007). Hooking up and forming romantic relationships on today’s college campuses. In M.S. Kimmel & A. Aronson. (Eds.) The gendered society reader (pp. 531-547). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Eshbaugh, E. & Gute, G. (2008). Hookups and sexual regret among college women. The Journal of Social Psychology, 148(2), 77-89.

Flack, W.F., Daubman, K.A., Caron, M.L., Asadorian, J.A., D’Aureli, N.R, Gigliotti, S.N., … Stein, E.R. (2007). Risk factors and consequences of unwanted sex among university students: Hooking up, alcohol, and stress response. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 22(2), 139-157. doi: 10.1177/0886260506295354

Gilmartin, S.K. (2006). Changes in college women’s attitudes toward sexual intimacy. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 16(3), 429-454. doi: 10.1111/j.1532 7795.2006.00501.x

Glenn, N., & Marquardt, E. (2001). Hooking up, hanging out, and hoping for Mr. Right: College women on dating and mating today. A report conducted by the Institute for American Values for the Independent Women’s Forum.

Grello, C. M., Welsh, D. P., Harper, M. S., & Dickson, J. W. (2003). Dating and sexual relationship trajectories and adolescent functioning. Adolescent and Family Health, 3, 103-112.

Grello, C. M., Welsh, D. P., & Harper, M. S. (2006). No Strings Attached: The Nature of Casual Sex in College Students. The Journal of Sex Research, 43(3), 266-267.

Hallfors, D. D., Waller, M. W., Bauer, D., Ford, C. A., & Halpern, C. T. (2005). Which comes first in adolescence—sex and drugs or depression? American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 29, 163-170. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2005.06.002

Herold, E.S., & Mewhinney, D. (1993). Gender differences in casual sex and AIDS prevention: A survey of dating bars. The Journal of Sex Research, 30, 36-42.

Higgins, E. T. (1987). Self-discrepancy: A theory relating self and affect. Psychological Review, 94, 319-340

Higgins, E. T. (1989). Self-discrepancy theory: What patterns of self-beliefs cause people to suffer? Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 22, 93-136. doi: 10.1037/0033-295X.94.3.319

Higgins, E. T., Bond, R. N., Klein, R. & Strauman, T. (1986). Self-discrepancies and emotional vulnerability: How magnitude, accessibility, and type of discrepancy influence affect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51, 5-15. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.51.1.5

Levinson, R. A., Jaccard, J., & Beamer, L. (1995). Older adolescents’ engagement in casual sex: Impact of risk perception and psychosocial motivations. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 24, 349-364. doi: 10.1007/BF01537601

MacDonald, N. E., Ebert, P. D., & Mason, S. E. (1987). Marital status and age as related to masculine and feminine personality dimensions and self-esteem. Journal of Social Psychology, 127, 343-350. doi: 10.1080/00224545.1987.9713694

McDaniel, B. L., & Grice, J. W. (2008). Predicting psychological well-being from self discrepancies: A comparison of idiographic and nomothetic measures. Self and Identity, 7(3), 243-261. doi: 10.1080/15298860701438364

Oswalt, S. B., Cameron, K. A. & Koob, J. J. (2005). Sexual regret in college students. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 34, 663-669. doi: 10.1007/s10508-005-7920-y

Paul, E. L. & Hayes, K. A. (2002). The causalities of ‘casual’ sex: A qualitative exploration of the phenomenology of college students’ hookups. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 19(5), 639-661.

Paul, E. L. McManus, B., & Hayes, K. A. (2000). “Hookups”: Characteristics and correlates of college students’ spontaneous and anonymous sexual experiences. The Journal of Sex Research, 37(1), 76-88. doi: 10.1080/00224490009552023

Petting. 2010. In Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved July 11,2010, from http://www.merriam-webster. com/dictionary/petting.

Scott, L., & O’Hara, M. W. (1993). Self-discrepancies in clinically anxious and depressed university students. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 102, 282–287. doi: 10.1037/0021 843X.102.2.282

Simpson, J. A., & Gangestad, S. W. (1992). Sociosexuality and romantic partner choice. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 60, 31-51. doi: 10.1111/j.1467 6494.1992.tb00264.x

Strauman, T. J. (1989). Self-discrepancies in clinical depression and social phobia: Cognitive structures that underlie emotional disorders? Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 98, 14-22. doi: 10.1037/0021-843X.98.1.14

Strauman, T. J., & Higgins, E. T. (1988). Self-discrepancies as predictors of vulnerability to distinct syndromes of chronic emotional distress. Journal of Personality, 56, 685 707. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-6494.1988.tb00472.x

Stretcher, V.J., DeVellis, B.M., Becker, M.H. & Rosenstock, I.M. (1986). The role of self efficacy in achieving health behavior change. Health Education Quarterly, 13(1), 73-91.

Tolman, D. L. (2002). Dilemmas of desire: Teenage girls talk about sexuality. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Victor, E. (2011). Engaging in the hookup culture: A self-discrepancy perspective. Graduate Student Journal of Psychology, 12.

Weber, C. (Ed.). (2002). Webster’s Dictionary (4th ed., Vols. 1-4). Chicago, IL: Webster Press.

Zeelenberg, M. (1999). The use of crying over spilled milk: A not on the rationality and functionality of regret. Philosophical Psychology, 12, 325-340.