Pattern recognition reveals sex‐dependent neural substrates of sexual perception
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Sex differences in brain activity evoked by sexual stimuli remain elusive despite robust evidence for stronger enjoyment of and interest toward sexual stimuli in men than in women. To test whether visual sexual stimuli evoke different brain activity patterns in men and women, we measured hemodynamic brain activity induced by visual sexual stimuli in two experiments with 91 subjects (46 males). In one experiment, the subjects viewed sexual and nonsexual film clips, and dynamic annotations for nudity in the clips were used to predict hemodynamic activity. In the second experiment, the subjects viewed sexual and nonsexual pictures in an event-related design. Men showed stronger activation than women in the visual and prefrontal cortices and dorsal attention network in both experiments. Furthermore, using multivariate pattern classification we could accurately predict the sex of the subject on the basis of the brain activity elicited by the sexual stimuli. The classification generalized across the experiments indicating that the sex differences were task-independent. Eye tracking data obtained from an independent sample of subjects (N = 110) showed that men looked longer than women at the chest area of the nude female actors in the film clips. These results indicate that visual sexual stimuli evoke discernible brain activity patterns in men and women which may reflect stronger attentional engagement with sexual stimuli in men.
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