A growing body of evidence indicates a connection between emotional processes and the emergence and progression of addiction. However, scant research has examined the involvement of emotional processing within the framework of problematic pornography use (PPU). This study aimed to examine the electrophysiological and subjective differences in emotional processing between male individuals with PPU and healthy controls (HCs) following exposure to everyday affective images.
Event-related potentials (ERPs) were recorded from 42 PPU participants (mean age = 20.14 years, SD = 1.35) and 45 HCs (mean age = 20.04 years, SD = 1.45) during an oddball task, in which unpleasant, pleasant, and neutral images were presented as deviant stimuli, while a neutral kettle image served as the standard stimulus. The Self-Assessment Manikin (SAM) was employed to assess participants' subjective experience on the dimensions of valence and arousal.
Regarding subjective measures of emotion, individuals with PPU reported lower valence ratings for unpleasant images compared to HCs. In terms of electrophysiological measures of emotion, PPU participants reported larger P2 amplitudes for unpleasant pictures compared to both pleasant and neutral pictures. Moreover, HCs showed enhanced P3 amplitudes in response to pleasant images compared to neutral images, whereas this effect was not observed in PPU participants.
Discussion and Conclusion
These findings indicate that individuals with PPU may display deficits in emotional processing characterized by enhanced responsiveness to negative stimuli and attenuated responsiveness to positive stimuli. The heightened sensitivity to negative stimuli may contribute to the inclination of individuals with PPU to engage in pornography as a coping mechanism for stress regulation. Conversely, their diminished sensitivity to positive stimuli presents a challenge in seeking alternative natural rewards to counter potentially addictive behaviors.
Impaired behavioral inhibitory control (BIC) is known to play a crucial role in addictive behavior. However, research has been inconclusive as to whether this is also the case for cybersex addiction. This study aimed to investigate the time course of BIC in male individuals with tendencies towards cybersex addiction (TCA) using event-related potentials (ERPs) and to provide neurophysiological evidence of their deficient BIC.
Thirty-six individuals with TCA and 36 healthy controls (HCs) were given a Two-Choice Oddball task that required them to respond differently to frequent standard stimuli (images of people) and infrequent deviant stimuli (pornographic images) within 1,000 ms. Electroencephalography (EEG) was recorded as the participants performed the task.
Despite the similarity of standard stimuli between the groups in terms of reaction times (RTs), the RTs of the TCA group to deviant stimuli were much slower than those of the HC group. The behavioral difference was accompanied by group differences in the averaged amplitudes of N2 (200–300 ms) and P3 (300–500 ms) components in the deviant-standard difference wave. More specifically, compared to the HC group, the TCA group demonstrated smaller N2 and P3 amplitude differences for deviant than standard stimuli.
Discussion and conclusions
Individuals with TCA were more impulsive than HC participants and shared neuropsychological and ERP characteristics of substance use disorder or behavioral addictions, which supports the view that cybersex addiction can be conceptualized as a behavioral addiction.
Attentional bias is a key factor in addictive behavior maintenance. However, whether attentional bias has a similar effect on cybersex addiction is unclear. We investigated differences in the attentional processing of sexually explicit images between individuals with high tendencies toward cybersex addiction (TCA) versus low tendencies using behavioral and electrophysiological indices.
Twenty-eight individuals with high TCA and 29 with low TCA performed an addiction Stroop task comprising sexual and neutral images in colored frames. Participants were asked to respond to the frame color and not the image contents, and behavioral and event-related potentials were recorded.
Behaviorally, an addiction Stroop interference effect was found in the high TCA group, as shown by the longer reaction times to judge the frame colors of sexual images. Electrophysiologically, a P200 (150–220 ms) enhancement was present in response to sexual images compared with neutral ones, which was absent in the low TCA group. The event-related potential correlates with the addiction Stroop interference effect, indicating that the attentional bias underlying the addiction Stroop interference operates at an automatic level. A general, sexually related bias was found in the late positive potential (300–700 ms) amplitude, although between-group differences were insignificant.
Discussion and conclusions
These findings indicate that sexual stimuli grab the attentional resources of individuals with high TCA at early automatic stages of attentional processing. Increased cue reactivity to sexual stimuli may contribute to pornographic consumption and play a crucial role in sustaining problematic excessive use of online pornography.