Beyond pleasure and arousal: appetitive erotic stimuli modulate electrophysiological brain correlates of early attentional processing

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Previous studies investigating affective reactions to pictures that elicit a specific effect have mainly focused on the dimensions valence and arousal. Using an event-related picture-viewing paradigm in electroencephalography, we investigated whether erotica – that is appetitive, evolutionarily relevant stimuli – have effects on early stages of attentional processing that are distinct from those of other positive and arousing stimuli. Seventeen male students viewed arousing photos of erotic, nude women or pictures of extreme sport scenes, as well as control pictures of attractive, dressed women or daily activities. Erotic pictures differed from extreme sport pictures not only in late but also in early attentional processes, as indicated by event-related potentials appearing from 130 ms after stimulus onset (P1). The findings suggest (a) that the dimension of appetence should be considered in addition to valence and arousal when investigating psychophysiological reactions to affective–motivational stimuli and (b) that early attentional processing as mirrored by the P1 can be influenced by motivational systems.

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