The psychology behind consent

The psychology behind consent


Scientific information pertaining to psychology in connection to gender, language, education, and violence have helped to decrease coercive social interactions and increase sexual-affective relationship freedom. However, there are new problems nowadays that call for more advancement. Experts in the domains of law, gender, and education require proof that distinguishes between human communication that results in the consent and coercive situations when it comes to consent. Thus far, consent has mostly involved spoken words, such as “no means no” or “anything less than yes is no.” Focusing permission on spoken language addresses a significant portion of the issue, but it does not resolve the majority of contemporary problems, such as the well-known “La Manada” case in Spain.

Consent is more about an individual’s underlying knowledge, beliefs, and intentions than it is about their outward conduct, which is more difficult to determine. In contrast, compliance and obedience are clearly seen in behavior. Although it is undoubtedly true that understanding someone’s true feelings regarding their behavior is more difficult than understanding their behavior itself, it doesn’t take much careful thought to come to the conclusion that such an argument is untenable for a field that primarily specializes in studying unobservable phenomena, such as knowledge, beliefs, and motivations, in particular.

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Myths regarding consent

There are a few enduring myths that impede our comprehension of consent. A common misconception is that quiet indicates agreement. But the lack of a “no” does not mean that everything is OK. Active, enthusiastic agreement—a resounding “yes” that excludes any possibility of doubt—is necessary for consent. Misconception number two concerns the effects of drugs and alcohol. Due to the substantial impairment of judgment and decision-making caused by intoxication, people are unable to give truly informed consent. Lastly, the idea that consent granted in the past implies consent granted now is likewise flawed. Given under certain conditions, consent is revocable at any moment. Fostering a culture of informed and empowered consent requires acknowledging and dispelling these myths.

Consent and Verbal vs. Non-verbal communication

Effective communication is a basic of getting as well as providing consent. Clear and open communication, such as both verbal and non-verbal are considered as an important step in establishing mutual understanding and respect.

1) Verbal communication:

It involves explicit discussion such as boundaries, desires, and intentions. It also requires active listening, a prominent and basic skill that goes beyond hearing words. Understanding the emotions, and intentions behind the words spoken are a very important step in the consent process. Miscommunication or misunderstandings also lead to breaches of consent and, consequently, psychological distress for the parties that are involved.

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2) Non-verbal communication:

It includes body language and facial expressions which play a significant role in deciphering consent. Being attracted to these cues helps in gauging comfort levels and understanding unspoken boundaries. However, it’s important to recognize that non-verbal cues are not foolproof, and verbal confirmation does remains a vital aspect of ensuring clear and unambiguous consent.

Researcher view

Scholars like as Jozkowski, Peterson, and Humphreys advise teachers to gather additional data on the ways in which kids express their consent so that they may improve their present preventative efforts and programs. They go on to say that one step toward making college safer for women may be to use skills-based training to assist students in practicing verbalizing consent rather than merely urging them to get it.

According to California law, every college or university receiving state funding must have a sexual assault policy which calls for students to get “affirmative consent” from anybody they want to have an intimate relationship. Even while the move makes it clear that permission cannot be granted if the other party is unconscious or impaired by alcohol or drugs, legislators elsewhere could find it challenging to address all the subtle verbal and nonverbal cues that can indicate a sexual assault.

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Parties who are not directly engaged sometimes misjudge the degree to which discomfort and fear keep individuals from speaking up. This aligns with our understanding of emotional perspective taking. Usually, when we pass judgment on the attitudes and behaviors of others, we start with our own experiences and work our way out from there. But we frequently make insufficient adjustments, which can lead to startling mistakes in social predictions.

To make matters worse, we frequently struggle to predict our own actions, which exacerbates prejudice. According to a well-known idea, people’s psychological process of making predictions involves an embodied simulation of the emotional experience of a distant future self, which explains why this occurrence happens.

Types of Consent

Consent is a complex notion in psychology that may take many different forms based on the situation and type of contact. The following kinds of consent are pertinent in psychological contexts:

1) Explicit Verbal Consent:

When people express their agreement vocally, it’s the most straightforward and explicit type of consent. It entails using clear language to indicate a want to participate in a certain activity, be it a discussion, an encounter, or any other circumstance.

2) Implied Consent:

Nonverbal clues, physical expressions, or implicit acts can all be used to infer permission. Even when it’s not said out loud, people might express their agreement by acting in ways that imply comfort or readiness. However, as interpretations might differ, depending only on implied permission can be dangerous.

3) Informed Consent:

Frequently employed in medical research and ethics, informed consent entails giving people thorough information about a surgery, treatment, or study. This guarantees that before providing their permission, people are fully informed about the possible risks, advantages, and ramifications.

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4) Ongoing or Continuous Consent:

Rather than being a one-time agreement, consent is seen as a continuous process. People are free to alter their opinions at any time throughout a contact and to revoke their permission. Checking for sustained willingness and comfort requires ongoing communication.

5) Retrospective Consent:

Consent can sometimes be given by someone after a certain occurrence has taken place. Although less prevalent, this is important to know in cases when getting previous consent might be difficult or impossible. Making sure the retroactive permission is truly voluntary is essential, though.

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5) General Consent:

People accept to participate in a group of activities generally without mentioning specific instances. For instance, participation in group conversations and activities may be assumed when one joins a social group.

6) Presumed Consent:

Unless specifically stated differently, this idea presumes that people will consent to a certain conduct. It is frequently used in organ donation programs, where people are always thought of as possible donors unless they choose not to.

The study of consent has been sadly understudied in mainstream psychology. This is an excellent opportunity to fix. Although consent shares conceptual similarities with basic psychological concepts like obedience, compliance, persuasion, free will, and autonomy, it has not historically been a central area of research in psychology. Psychologists should embrace consent as a central area of research rather than relegating it to the purview of legal academics, philosophers, or psychological sub-fields.


Jozkowski, K. N., Peterson, Z. D., Sanders, S. A., Dennis, B., & Reece, M. (2014). Gender differences in heterosexual college students’ conceptualizations and indicators of sexual consent: Implications for contemporary sexual assault prevention education. Journal of Sex Research, 51, 904–916.

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