To What Extent Do Erotic Images Elicit Visuospatial versus Cognitive Attentional Processes? Consistent Support for a (Non-Spatial) Sexual Content-Induced Delay

  • Roland ImhoffEmail author
  • Paul Barker
  • Alexander F. Schmidt
Original Paper


It is almost a cultural truism that erotic images attract our attention, presumably because paying attention to erotic stimuli provided our ancestors with mating benefits. Attention, however, can be narrowly defined as visuospatial attention (keeping such stimuli in view) or more broadly as cognitive attention (such stimuli taking up one’s thoughts). We present four independent studies aiming to test the extent to which erotic images have priority in capturing visuospatial versus cognitive attention. Whereas the former would show in quicker reactions to stimuli presented in locations where erotic images appeared previously, the latter causes delayed responding after erotic images, independent of their location). To this end, we specifically modified spatial cueing tasks to disentangle visuospatial attention capture from general sexual content-induced delay (SCID) effects—a major drawback in the previous literature. Consistently across all studies (total N = 399), we found no evidence in support of visuospatial attention capture but reliably observed an unspecific delay of responding for trials in which erotic images appeared (irrespective of cue location). This SCID is equally large for heterosexual men and women and reliably associated with their self-reported sexual excitability.


Erotic cognition Visual attention Spatial cueing Sexual content-induced delay Sexual excitability 



The reported research and preparation of this paper were supported by a DFG Grant (IM147/3-1) awarded to Roland Imhoff. All experimental scripts, raw and aggregated data as well as results of additional analyses can be found on the Open Science Framework under

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Human and Animal Rights

This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by any of the authors.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Supplementary material

10508_2019_1512_MOESM1_ESM.docx (16 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 15 kb)


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Social and Legal PsychologyJohannes Gutenberg University MainzMainzGermany
  2. 2.Social Cognition Center CologneUniversity of CologneCologneGermany

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