A Cognitive-Motivational Approach to Understanding Gendered Sexual Response: the Role of Attentional Mechanisms

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Dawson, Samantha
Sexual Response , Attention , Gender , Cognitive-Motivational Model , Eye Tracking , Gender-Specificity
Sexual arousal involves changes in physiology, emotions, and cognitions, and is positively associated with sexual outcomes (e.g., sexual activity, sexual desire) and well-being (e.g., physical and mental health, overall quality of life). As such, factors that influence sexual arousal are expected to also influence sexual outcomes and well-being. Theoretical models propose that sexual arousal and subsequent sexual outcomes are the product of a cognitive-motivational processes; however, relatively little research has investigated these underlying processes in samples of men and women. This has resulted in a large body of literature documenting gender differences in sexual arousal and sexual outcomes, with little understanding of how these outcomes develop. My program of research seeks to understand the attentional processes involved in processing sexual cues, with a specific focus on elucidating cognitive-motivational factors contributing to the gender effects observed in sexual response patterns. Informed by cognitive-motivational models of sexual response, the three studies investigate different stages of attentional processing and examine how features of these stages influence sexual response in men and women. Results of these studies confirm gender similarities and differences in automatic, initial, and controlled attentional processing of sexual cues, as well as the stimulus features capable of capturing attention. The results of these studies indicate the presence of several distinct information-processing mechanisms that may be relevant to the regulation of sexual response (i.e., attentional orienting and capture, difficulty disengaging, and attentional adhesion). Implications of this research include greater understanding of the cognitive-motivational processes involved in sexual arousal contributing to normative sexual functioning and how this may differ for men and women. The paradigms and processes identified in the current studies may have direct implications for the development of new measures to assess sexual interest, identifying mechanisms underlying sexual function and dysfunction, as well as informing the development of attention-based interventions for individuals who have difficulties regulating their sexual arousal.
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