Journal of Experimental Social Psychology

doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2019.103904. Volume 86, January 2020, 103904


• We examined whether sexual priming encourages conformity and self-presentation lies.

• Sexual priming led participants to conform more to a potential partner’s views.

• Participants also lied about the number of sexual partners while sexually aroused.

• Overall, sexual priming motivates impression management even when it involves lying.


Recent studies have shown that activation of the sexual system encourages enactment of relationship-initiating behaviors (Birnbaum et al., 2017). In four studies, we expand on this work to explore whether people are more inclined to lie to impress a potential partner following sexual priming. In all studies, participants were exposed to sexual stimuli (versus non-sexual stimuli) and then interacted with an opposite-sex stranger. In Study 1, unacquainted participants resolved a dilemma while each represented opposing positions. In Study 2, participants rated their preferences, and after viewing a confederate’s preferences, re-rated them in a profile shown to the confederate. In Studies 3 and 4, participants reported their number of lifetime sexual partners in anonymous questionnaires and during a chat (Study 3) or while completing an online profile (Study 4). Results indicated that following sexual priming, participants were more likely to conform to the stranger’s views (Studies 1 and 2) and reported fewer sexual partners during actual and potential online interactions than in the questionnaires (Study 3). Although the results of Study 4 did not replicate the findings of Study 3, they were directionally consistent with them. Overall, the findings suggest that sexual priming motivates impression management even when it involves lying.