There's a vast amount of research on the harmful effects of pornography, and it's important that this information is accessible to the public. Weekly, we highlight a research study that sheds light on the expanding field of academic resources that showcase porn's harms. These studies cover a wide range of topics, from the sociological implications of pornography to the neurological effects of porn-consumption.

The full study can be accessed here.

Tendencies toward internet-pornography-use disorder: Differences in men and women regarding attentional biases to pornographic stimuli

Authors: Jaro Pekal, Christian Laier, Jan Snagowski, Rudolf Stark, and Matthais Brand
Published June 2017

Peer-Reviewed Journal: Journal of Behavioral Addictions (2018) 7(3): 574–583

Background

Research continues to find that some pornography users develop an excessive usage pattern characterized by increased using times as well as a diminished control over the use and they experience severe negative consequences due to their uncontrolled use of internet pornography (Griffiths, 2012). Due to the easy accessibility and affordability of pornographic contents as well as users’ perceived anonymity (Cooper, 1998), the internet-pornography-use seems to be risky for its addictive potential (Griffiths, 2001; Meerkerk, van den Eijnden, & Garretsen, 2006; Young, Pistner, O’Mara, & Buchanan, 1999). With regard to several other internet applications (e.g., social networking or shopping), some researchers consider the phenomenon of uncontrolled and excessive use of internet pornography as one type of specific internet-use disorder (Brand, Young, Laier, Wölfling, & Potenza, 2016; Garcia & Thibaut, 2010; Kuss, Griffiths, Karila, & Billieux, 2014; Laier & Brand, 2014). Several other researchers consider internet-pornography-use disorder (IPD) as an addictive disorder, which is comparable with internet gaming disorder or gambling disorder. Consequently, applying the addiction framework is useful for studying psychological mechanisms potentially underlying IPD.

One of the mechanisms that has been intensively studied in substance-use disorders is an enhanced attention toward addiction-related cues (Bradley, Mogg, Wright, & Field, 2003; Field, Marhe, & Franken, 2014; van Hemel-Ruiter, de Jong, Ostafin, & Wiers, 2015). This enhanced attention is called “attentional bias” and can be described as cognitive processes of individual’s perception affected by addiction-related cues (Field & Cox, 2008). The theoretical background behind this idea is that individuals with addictive disorders show fast shifts of attention to stimuli, which are associated with the addictive behavior (e.g., drug intake), due to the cue’s incentive salience. The incentive salience is considered as the result of classical conditioning processes (Robinson & Berridge, 2000, 2001, 2008).

In the context of the development and maintenance of an IPD, these attentional biases may interfere with decision-making behaviors in order to receive short-term gratification in terms of sexual arousal. It is assumed that the anticipation of sexual gratification plays a key role in the development and maintenance of an IPD as the gratification is highly positively (and partly negatively) reinforcing (Brand et al., 2011; Georgiadis & Kringelbach, 2012; Young, 1998). The purpose of this study was to test if individuals experiencing IPD demonstrate elevated of cue reactivity and craving that contributes to their addiction patterns.

Methods

To investigate the role of attentional biases in the development of IPD, the researchers investigated a sample of 174 male and female participants. Attentional bias was measured with the Visual Probe Task, in which participants had to react on arrows appearing after pornographic or neutral pictures. In addition, participants had to indicate their sexual arousal induced by pornographic pictures. Furthermore, tendencies toward IPD were measured using the short-internet sex Addiction Test.

Results

The results of this study showed a relationship between attentional bias and symptom severity of IPD, partially mediated by indicators for cue-reactivity and craving. While men and women generally differ in reaction times due to pornographic pictures, a moderated regression analysis revealed that attentional biases occur independently of sex in the context of IPD symptoms.

As a main result of the study, the researchers found support for their hypothesis that there would be a relationship between attentional bias toward sexual stimuli and symptom severity of IPD in a sample of male and female participants. Furthermore, the relationship between attentional bias and symptoms of IPD was mediated by indicators for cue-reactivity and craving. These results indicate that attentional biases play a role in IPD symptoms and seem to occur independently from gender.

These results support researchers who believe that pornography addiction mirrors similar patterns found in substance-use disorders. Specifically, it supports the idea that pornography compulsion is linked to increased attention to and reaction to addiction cues, as well as increased levels of craving.

The full study can be accessed here.

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