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J Sex Res. 2014;51(2):184-96. doi: 10.1080/00224499.2012.716872. Epub 2012 Nov 13.

Sexual cognition guides viewing strategies to human figures.

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  • 1a School of Psychology , University of Lincoln.


Gaze patterns to figure images have been proposed to reflect the observer's sexual interest, particularly for men. This eye-tracking study investigated how individual differences in sexual motivation tendencies are manifested in naturalistic gaze patterns. Heterosexual men and women (M = 21.0 years, SD = 2.1) free-viewed plain-clothed male and female figures, aged 10, 20, and 40 years old, while their eye movements were recorded. Questionnaires were used to measure sexual cognitions, including sensation seeking and sexual compulsivity, sexual inhibition and excitation, and approach and avoidance responses to sexual stimuli. Our analysis showed a clear role of sexual cognitions in influencing gaze strategies for men. Specifically, men who scored higher on sexual compulsivity dedicated more gaze to the waist-hip region when viewing figures of their preferred sexual partners than men who scored lower on sexual compulsivity. Women's sexual cognitions showed no clear effect on the gaze pattern in viewing figures of their preferred age and gender of sexual partners, suggesting women's gaze is unlikely to be a straightforward reflection of their sexual preferences. The findings further suggest that men's gaze allocation is driven by sexual preferences and supports the utility of eye tracking in the assessment of male sexual interest.

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