SEXUAL AROUSAL: A brain imaging study
Outward signs, such as psychological test results or physical
responses, may not tell us much about what turns us on or
off. Most people are practised at controlling their initial
reactions or at times, we can all be good at hiding what
we really feel. This is equally true of sexual arousal.
A physical response may be controlled, disguising a situation
when the mind is aroused. Newer imaging techniques allow
us an insight into aspects of our psyche and into why we
act as we do, and they don't depend on our outward expression
of emotion or thoughts.
Research in animals has implicated some regions in the
brain that may be involved but we have much to learn about
the neural correlates of sexual arousal in humans. In this
study, researchers are investigating the neural correlates
of sexual arousal in groups of men using fMRI. Slides of
images designed to evoke fear, arousal and disgust are shown
to the men whilst they are in the scanner and their reactions
(in terms of brain activity) will be recorded.
The study is also a first attempt to understand sexual
offending in terms of brain activity using fMRI. By comparing
the brain's activity in male volunteers with brain activity
in men who have committed sexual offences - such as serial
rape or paedophilia - researchers hope to uncover mechanisms
underlying deviant sexual arousal. Ultimately, if there
are factors in the brain that predispose some people to
commit sexual offences, this could have important implications
for risk assessment and managing sexual offenders.