ôô

Your Brain on Porn and Other Sexual Images

Is porn bad for the brain?  The Savvy Psychologist explains 3 studies that looked at how we process porn and other sexualized images, and reveals the potential effects on the brain--and on how we see our fellow men and women.

By
Ellen Hendriksen, PhD
July 11, 2014
Episode #027

Page 1 of 2

A recent neurology study found that the more porn a man watched, the less gray matter he had in his brain. The study made headlines the world over, prompting an anonymous listener to ask whether such sexual stimulation is indeed bad for the brain. So just what is the effect of sexual imagery on our brains--and does it affect how we see our fellow men and women? Here are the details on 3 studies that examined the brain on porn and other sexualized images.

Sponsor: Thanks to Audible for supporting our channel.  Get a free audiobook of your choice at audiblepodcast.com/savvy

Study #1: Your Brain On Porn

In May 2014, a study in the prestigious journal JAMA Psychiatry was all over the news. It found that the more porn men reported watching, the less volume and activity they had in the regions of the brain—specifically the striatum—linked to reward processing and motivation. They also found that connectivity between the striatum and the prefrontal cortex (which is the part of the brain used for decision making, planning, and behavior regulation) weakened the more porn the men reported watching.

The researchers hypothesized that these differences might reflect change resulting from intense stimulation of the reward system. However, before you close your laptop and think of England, there are three important things to note:

First, these were all healthy men. The participants were screened for psychiatric disorders, neurological problems, medical illness, and substance abuse before their brains were scanned. So despite the brain differences, it didn’t seem to affect their health or daily functioning.

Second, brain changes aren’t limited to porn. Anything you do frequently, from smoking pot to playing a musical instrument to driving a delivery truck, can change your brain. The bigger concern is whether it affects your functioning or causes distress.

Third, this was only a snapshot—the participants weren’t followed over time—so we don’t know the answer to the chicken-or-egg question of whether porn shrinks your brain or whether your brain structures and connectivity predispose you to get more out of porn. 

Study #2: She Was a Fast Machine. She Kept Her Motor Clean

Pornography is one thing, but what about the sexualized images all around us? Cleavage and high heels are used to sell everything from deodorant to tires to internet domains. And cognitively, what’s happening when men or women look at the women’s magazine covers at the supermarket checkout?

A 2012 study in the journal Psychological Science gives us part of the answer. Cognitively, we recognize people differently than we recognize objects. Something called configural processing helps us recognize an image as a person.  Configural processing detects what defines a person, like a mouth below a nose below two eyes, the spacing between the features, and the overall gestalt that makes a person a person.

By contrast, analytic processing, or part-based processing, which is generally used to recognize objects, doesn’t emphasize spatial relations among parts.

In the study, researchers showed male and female participants upside down and right side up images of attractive men and women posing in sexy underwear or swimsuits. 

Pages

Related Tips

You May Also Like...

Facebook

Twitter

Pinterest