The Effects of Positive Versus Negative Mood States on Attentional Processes During Exposure to Erotica

Arch Sex Behav. 2017 Nov;46(8):2495-2504. doi: 10.1007/s10508-016-0875-3. Epub 2016 Oct 12.


The relationship between emotions and sexual functioning has been documented since early sex research. Among other effects, emotions are expected to impact sexual response by shaping individuals' attention to sexual cues; yet, this assumption has not been tested. This study aimed to investigate whether attentional processes to sexual cues are impacted by state emotions, and whether the processes impacted by emotions relate to subjective sexual arousal to a sex film clip. A total of 52 men and 73 women were randomly assigned to one of three experimental conditions: (1) a negative mood induction condition (sadness as dominant emotion), (2) a positive mood induction condition (amusement as dominant emotion), and a (3) neutral/control condition. After mood induction, participants were exposed to a sex film clip while their focus of visual attention was measured using an eye tracker. Three areas of interest (AOI) were considered within the sex clip: background (non-sexual cues), body interaction, and genital interaction. Self-reported attention, thoughts during the sex clip, percent dwell time, and pupil size to AOI were considered as attentional markers. Findings revealed that the attentional processes were not impacted by the mood conditions. Instead, gender effects were found. While men increased their visual attention to the background area of the film clip, women increased attention to the genital area. Also, sexual arousal thoughts during exposure to the sex clip were consistently related to subjective sexual arousal regardless of the momentary emotional state. Findings add to the literature by showing that men and women process the sexual components of a stimulus differently and by challenging the assumption that emotions shape attention to sexual cues.

Keywords: Attention; Emotions; Mood induction; Sexual arousal.

MeSH terms

  • Affect / physiology*
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Erotica / psychology*
  • Eye Movements / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Random Allocation