Conscious processing of sexual information: mechanisms of appraisal

Arch Sex Behav. 2004 Aug;33(4):369-80. doi: 10.1023/B:ASEB.0000028890.08687.94.


To elucidate some of the activational mechanisms of sexual response, this study investigated the effects of conscious appraisal of sexual and neutral stimuli on a categorization task and on ratings of sexual arousal. Conscious appraisal is dependent on memory, regulatory, and attentional processes, interacting with one another. It is proposed that regulation is activated by attention, furnished by representations from implicit and explicit memory. Participants (26 men and 25 women) were asked to respond to "target" stimuli that were preceded by supraliminal "prime" stimuli. Primes and targets were operationalized by slides with sexual (i.e., romantic vs. explicit) and neutral content. In a cognitive task, participants had to group randomly presented targets as quickly as possible into sexual and nonsexual categories. Categorization of sexual targets was delayed when they were preceded by sexual primes compared to neutral primes. This was interpreted as an inhibitory process and compared with the Sexual Content-Induced Delay phenomenon (J. H. Geer & H. S. Bellard, 1996; J. H. Geer & J. S. Melton, 1997). No gender difference was found. In a subsequent affective task, participants provided an assessment of sexual arousal, followed by an evaluation of the target. This task was hypothesized to result in differential access to memory, where assessments of sexual arousal are influenced mainly by implicit memory, and where evaluations are influenced mainly by explicit memory. Gender differences were most prominent in the evaluation aspect of this task. It was concluded that cognitive processing of sexual information is similar for both genders, but that gender differences are present in affective processing of sexual information.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect* / physiology
  • Arousal / physiology
  • Awareness* / physiology
  • Consciousness / physiology*
  • Decision Making
  • Erotica*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Sex Factors
  • Sexual Behavior* / physiology
  • Sexual Behavior* / psychology
  • Time Factors
  • Visual Perception* / physiology