Sexual picture processing interferes with decision-making under ambiguity

Arch Sex Behav. 2014 Apr;43(3):473-82. doi: 10.1007/s10508-013-0119-8. Epub 2013 Jun 4.


Many people watch sexually arousing material on the Internet in order to receive sexual arousal and gratification. When browsing for sexual stimuli, individuals have to make several decisions, all possibly leading to positive or negative consequences. Decision-making research has shown that decisions under ambiguity are influenced by consequences received following earlier decisions. Sexual arousal might interfere with the decision-making process and should therefore lead to disadvantageous decision-making in the long run. In the current study, 82 heterosexual, male participants watched sexual pictures, rated them with respect to sexual arousal, and were asked to indicate their current level of sexual arousal before and following the sexual picture presentation. Afterwards, subjects performed one of two modified versions of the Iowa Gambling Task in which sexual pictures were displayed on the advantageous and neutral pictures on the disadvantageous card decks or vice versa (n = 41/n = 41). Results demonstrated an increase of sexual arousal following the sexual picture presentation. Decision-making performance was worse when sexual pictures were associated with disadvantageous card decks compared to performance when the sexual pictures were linked to the advantageous decks. Subjective sexual arousal moderated the relationship between task condition and decision-making performance. This study emphasized that sexual arousal interfered with decision-making, which may explain why some individuals experience negative consequences in the context of cybersex use.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Arousal / physiology*
  • Decision Making*
  • Emotions
  • Erotica / psychology*
  • Female
  • Gambling*
  • Heterosexuality / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Regression Analysis
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Task Performance and Analysis
  • Young Adult