Article: Subliminal Nude Pictures Focus Attention

From: Neil H. (
Date: Tue Oct 24 2006 - 12:43:01 MDT

Another neat article, describing how presenting binocularly-masked
subliminal nude images improved performance on a visual discrimination
task. The nude images only improved performance if they fit the
subject's sexual orientation. This makes me wonder if having a
background software process which periodically flashed nude images
fight-club-style would help or hinder productivity... ;)

(If anybody can locate the original PNAS article for this, could you
post a link here?)

"Cognitive neuroscientist Sheng He of the University of Minnesota and
his colleagues gathered groups of heterosexual men, heterosexual
women, homosexual men and bisexual women numbering 10 each. Each
viewed special images pointed directly at each individual eye. The
researchers could cancel out vision of one eye's image by presenting a
specific high contrast image to the other eye. Such an image, called a
Gabor patch, consists of a series of contrasting lines that form an
abstract--and visually arresting--shape. "Normally, the two eyes look
at the same image. They don't have any conflict," he explains. "We
create a situation where the two eyes are presented with two images,
and then they will have binocular competition. One image is high
contrast [and dynamic], the other is static. You basically just see
the dynamic image."

Into the canceled out image slot, the researchers slipped an erotic
image; for example, a naked woman displayed for a heterosexual man. To
ensure that subjects did not consciously detect the invisible image,
they were asked to press a specific key if they noticed any difference
between the left and right images. Over the course of 32 trials, men
were significantly better at detecting the orientation of Gabor
patches when they appeared in the slot formerly occupied by an
invisible image of a nude woman.

The heterosexual men, however, had a more difficult time detecting the
same orientation when it was located where an invisible picture of a
nude man had been; this was not the case for heterosexual women when
viewing their own sex naked. And the homosexual men's response was
similar to that of the heterosexual women, as were the bisexual
women's and heterosexual men's. This focus benefit did not carry over,
however, when the participants were allowed to consciously see the
naked photos, the researchers report in the paper published online in
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA. It may have been
that the erotic images were on display too long, they speculate;
previous studies have shown that it is difficult to maintain attention
in one spot. Or it could be that social or cultural norms take over.
"Maybe you don't want to look at the nude pictures," he suggests.
Regardless, it appears that our minds are exquisitely tuned to detect
sexual opportunity--especially when it is invisible. "

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