RxPG News Feed for RxPG News

Medical Research Health Special Topics World
 Asian Health
 Food & Nutrition
 Men's Health
 Mental Health
 Occupational Health
 Public Health
 Sleep Hygiene
 Women's Health
 Canada Healthcare
 China Healthcare
 India Healthcare
 New Zealand
 South Africa
 World Healthcare
   Latest Research
 Alternative Medicine
 Clinical Trials
 Infectious Diseases
  Anorexia Nervosa
  Child Psychiatry
  Forensic Psychiatry
  Mood Disorders
  Peri-Natal Psychiatry
  Personality Disorders
   Behavioral Science
   Cognitive Science
  Sleep Disorders
  Substance Abuse
 Sports Medicine
   Medical News
 Awards & Prizes
   Special Topics
 Odd Medical News

Last Updated: Oct 11, 2012 - 10:22:56 PM
Cognitive Science Channel

subscribe to Cognitive Science newsletter
Latest Research : Psychiatry : Psychology : Cognitive Science

   EMAIL   |   PRINT
Erotic images elicit strong response from brain

Jun 15, 2006 - 11:36:00 AM , Reviewed by: Priya Saxena
"We believed both pleasant and disturbing images would evoke a rapid response, but erotic scenes always elicited the strongest response."

[RxPG] Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis measured brainwave activity of 264 women as they viewed a series of 55 color slides that contained various scenes from water skiers to snarling dogs to partially-clad couples in sensual poses.

What they found may seem like a "no brainer." When study volunteers viewed erotic pictures, their brains produced electrical responses that were stronger than those elicited by other material that was viewed, no matter how pleasant or disturbing the other material may have been. This difference in brainwave response emerged very quickly, suggesting that different neural circuits may be involved in the processing of erotic images.

"That surprised us," says first author Andrey P. Anokhin, Ph.D., research assistant professor of psychiatry. "We believed both pleasant and disturbing images would evoke a rapid response, but erotic scenes always elicited the strongest response."

As subjects looked at the slides, electrodes on their scalps measured changes in the brain's electrical activity called event-related potentials (ERPs). The researchers learned that regardless of a picture's content, the brain acts very quickly to classify the visual image. The ERPs begin firing in the brain's cortex long before a person is conscious of whether they are seeing a picture that is pleasant, unpleasant or neutral.

But when the picture is erotic, ERPs begin firing within 160 milliseconds, about 20 percent faster than occurred with any of the other pictures. Soon after, the ERPs begin to diverge, with processing taking place in different brain structures for erotic pictures than those that process the other images.

"When we present a stimulus to a subject — for example, when a picture appears on a screen — it changes ongoing brain activity in certain ways, and we can detect those changes," Anokhin says.

Pictures appeared on a screen at 12 to 18 second intervals, and each picture remained on the screen for about 6 seconds. The subjects were instructed to do nothing other than look at the pictures.

A great deal of past research has suggested that men are more visual creatures than women and get more aroused by erotic images than women. Anokhin says the fact that the women's brains in this study exhibited such a quick response to erotic pictures suggests that, perhaps for evolutionary reasons, our brains are programmed to preferentially respond to erotic material.

"Usually men subjectively rate erotic material much higher than women," he says. "So based on those data we would expect lower responses in women, but that was not the case. Women have responses as strong as those seen in men."

Because the electroencephalogram (EEG) technology cannot pinpoint specific brain structures involved in this visual processing, Anokhin says it's not clear exactly which circuits are reacting to these visual scenes. Recent studies in primates recorded the electrical activity of single neural cells within the brain and have shown that the frontal cortex contains neurons that can discriminate between different categories of visual objects such as dogs versus cats. Whether or not the human prefrontal cortex contains special neurons that are "tuned" for sex remains a subject for future studies.

"The newer and more advanced technologies such as MRI and PET provide much better spatial resolution," he says. "Those methods can better localize areas of brain activity, but ERPs have a much better temporal resolution. The EEG can record neuronal activity in real time. When measuring activity in milliseconds, any delay is undesirable."

Most of Anokhin's research is centered on the genetic and neurobiological bases of behavioral traits that might be associated with increased vulnerability to alcoholism and addictive disorders. He believes this study could contribute to that work by detecting differences between responses to images with different emotional significance. Because many psychiatric disorders also are associated with poor processing of signals associated with reward and pleasure, as well as sexual disturbances, he believes the way the brain processes emotional pictures, including erotic materials, might help scientists better understand some forms of mental illness.

Publication: Anokhin AP, Golosheykin S, Sirevaag E, Kristjansson S, Rohrbaugh JW, Heath AC. Rapid discrimination of visual scene content in the human brain. Brain Research, doi:10.1016/j.brainres.2006.03.108, available on-line May 18, 2006.
On the web: medschool.wustl.edu 

Advertise in this space for $10 per month. Contact us today.

Related Cognitive Science News
Experience vital for complex decision-making
Stimulating scalp with weak current improves dexterity
Study shows how context dictates what we believe we see
Do I know you? QBI researchers identify woman's struggle to recognize new faces
Mapping attention, memory and language links in human brain
Gender and Income Does Determine Cognitive Function
Emotional responses usually take over rational responses in decision making
Touch tracking bypasses mind control
Mice learn set shifting tasks to help treat human psychiatric disorders
Broca's area also organizes behavioral hierarchies

Subscribe to Cognitive Science Newsletter

Enter your email address:

 Additional information about the news article
Written by Jim Dryden

Funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the National Institutes of Health.

Washington University School of Medicine's full-time and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children's hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient care institutions in the nation, currently ranked fourth in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children's hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked
For any corrections of factual information, to contact the editors or to send any medical news or health news press releases, use feedback form

Top of Page

Contact us

RxPG Online



    Full Text RSS

© All rights reserved by RxPG Medical Solutions Private Limited (India)