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Neuroimage. 2008 Nov 1;43(2):337-45. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2008.07.059. Epub 2008 Aug 13.

The chronoarchitecture of human sexual desire: a high-density electrical mapping study.

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4D Brain Electrodynamics Laboratory, UCSB Brain Imaging Center, Sage Center for the Study of the Mind, Institute for Collaborative Biotechnologies, and Department of Psychology, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA, USA.


Recent neuroimaging research suggests that human sexual desire (SD) recruits both the limbic system and higher-order cognitive brain areas. Because of the temporal limitation of this technique, the chronoarchitecture of SD remains however unresolved. Here, we investigated the spatio-temporal dynamics of SD by combining a behavioral desire decision task with high-density visual event-related potential (VEP) recordings and brain source estimations. VEPs were recorded from thirteen healthy participants when presented with pictures from two different stimulus categories (i.e., high and low desirability). In agreement with the literature, behavioral results showed that participants were faster to rate non-desired stimuli than desired stimuli (p=0.028). Electrophysiological results extended these behavioral data. Group-averaged VEPs peaked at 90 to 140 ms (P100), at 142 to 220 ms (N200), and at 222 to 360 ms (P300). Desired stimuli (DS) were distinguished from non-desired stimuli (NDS) over the N200 period, notably from 142 to 187 ms. Over this time period, DS processing was characterized by a significant scalp potential field. Although both conditions (DS and NDS) showed the recruitment of the occipito-temporal region (including the extrastriate body area, EBA), LAURA source estimation of the DS scalp potential field revealed a more right-lateralized current source density maximum in the posterior superior temporal sulcus (STS) extending to the temporo-parietal junction (TPJ). The recruitment of STS and TPJ for desired stimuli indicates that these brain areas, known to be respectively involved in social cognition, attention, integration of body-related information and self-processing, play a crucial role for the coding of desirability of visual sexual human stimuli within the first 200 ms after stimulus onset. These findings support the hypothesis that complex cognitive processing for desire occurs much faster than previously thought and open new perspectives with respect to the role of both bottom-up and top-down mechanisms in visual processing of sexual stimuli.

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