“Porn” problems unlike any known addiction in largest neuroscience study

 
 
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LOS ANGELES - June 26, 2015 - PRLog -- When studying addictions, there are known relationships between certain stimuli and reactions in the brain. These reactions have, in some instances, become the benchmark for what constitutes an addiction and addiction-based behaviors.  There has been heated debate over the very existence of porn “addiction” and what that addiction would look like when studied.

In the largest neuroscience study of porn addiction to date, research conducted at UCLA found a clear reversal of the brain’s typical addiction response in study participants when they were shown sexual images. With the use of brain wave monitoring, participants who reported major problems controlling their viewing of sex films showed decreased brain reactions when shown the sexual images, rather than heightened activity as having a “porn addiction” would suggest.

The study shows that the brain does not react the way an addict’s brain would react to cues for their drug of choice. In fact, the study shows that the hypothetical “sex addict” brain reacts in the opposite way that a drug addict’s brain reacts, questioning whether sex addiction actually exists.

“This finding is important, because it shows a reversal of a part of the brain response that has been consistently documented in other substance addictions and gambling disorder,” Prause said. She also noted that this was consistent with their previous study, in which participants served as their own control and no relationship existed between the severity of their sex film problems and their brain response.

Many self-identified “hypersexual” people say they have an uncontrollable urge for sexual stimuli, and that it has resulted in negative life consequences such as loss of jobs or loss of relationships. For this reason, many clinicians have suggested that "sex addiction" be diagnosed much like drug addiction.

“While we do not doubt that some people struggle with their sexual behaviors, these data show that the nature of the problem is unlikely to be addictive,” said Prause.

The study involved 122 volunteers, both men and women. Some had problems controlling their viewing of sex films and met suggested criteria for problem use of pornography by three different questionnaire measures. Others denied any problems with their viewing of sex films. The 122 participants viewed images and were monitored using electroencephalography (EEG) that measures brain waves. The images were of sexual and non-sexual scenes. They included photos of people skydiving and of a man and woman engaging in intercourse, among others.

The study measured the late positive potential (LPP). Co-author Greg Hajcak described, “The LPP reflects electrical activity of the brain that is recorded at the scalp and time-locked to the presentation of pictures.” The LPP is a very common measure in studies of emotion. “The size of the LPP reflects the intensity of an emotional response, and reflects brain activity occurring in the visual system and ancient subcortical structures,” explained co-author Dean Sabatinelli.

“Hundreds of studies have found that the LPP is larger for emotional compared to neutral pictures,” described Hajcak, “and previous work from myself and my colleagues have shown that cocaine addicts have an increased LPP to cocaine-related pictures.” To test for correlation with hypersexuality, one would expect the brain to show high rates of activity when shown sexual images. In this study, a reverse effect was shown.

“The extent that individuals struggle with attempts to control urges or other internal states such as thoughts or emotions may change how problematic pornography viewing becomes,” co-author and psychologist Cameron Staley added. “Labeling a person’s attempt to control urges a ‘sexual addiction’ may interfere with therapy approaches such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) that can reduce distressing sexual behaviors.”

The study appears in the current online edition of the scientific journal Biological Psychology (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301051...).

Authors on the study are Dr. Nicole Prause, Liberos LLC (http://www.liberoscenter.com); Dr. Vaughn R. Steele, The Mind Research Network, UNM-Albuquerque; Dr. Cameron Staley, Idaho State University, Pocatello, ID; Dr. Dean Sabatinelli, University of Georgia, Athens, GA; Dr. Greg Hajcak, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY.

This research was conducted in the UCLA Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences (http://www.psychiatry.ucla.edu/), which is the within the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA for faculty who are experts in the origins and treatment of disorders of complex human behavior. The lead author is the founder at Liberos LLC, a company in the UCLA startup program devoted to neuroscience research and the treatment of human sexual problems.

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