Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Stats Entertainment Science

Study Finds Porn Exposure Associated With Smaller Brain Region 211

Posted by timothy
from the news-for-nerds dept.
New submitter Bodhammer (559311) writes "German researchers looked at the brains of 64 men between the ages of 21 and 45 and found that one brain region (the striatum, linked to reward processing), was smaller in the brains of porn watchers, and that a specific part of the same region is also less activated when exposed to more pornography." While it's tempting to cast blame, "the study doesn't confirm whether watching porn causes the changes, or whether people with a certain brain type are inherently more apt to tune into X-rated content." The study's abstract is available; the paper itself is pay-walled.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Study Finds Porn Exposure Associated With Smaller Brain Region

Comments Filter:
  • prost! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 01, 2014 @05:54PM (#47143221)

    At last a study that concerns /.ers more than any of the other stuff to be found here lately.

  • by rmdingler (1955220) on Sunday June 01, 2014 @05:55PM (#47143229)
    in exchange for instant gratification of a primal nature?

    Almost certainly.

    Don't worry though, the reason you'll prosper if you live long is because aging gradually erodes the hold your base urges have upon you.

    • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Sunday June 01, 2014 @06:41PM (#47143485)

      in exchange for instant gratification of a primal nature?
      Almost certainly.

      Hahaha. But don't assume. OP left out something that is important to keep in mind here: most people in modern society watch pornography to some extent. They even admit to it in polls (which means the polls probably don't count everybody who really does).

      Putting 2 and 2 together, that means that the people with the larger brain region are the abnormal ones. You should be asking what THEY "give up" in exchange for this deviance (from the norm, that is).

      • by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Sunday June 01, 2014 @07:06PM (#47143569) Homepage Journal
        Don't assume it means anything—the striatum's primary function is coordinating motor control. If there is a meaningful causal link and this study is not just a p-value fishing expedition, it is so convoluted as to be incomprehensible.
        • But the striatum interacts with other brain structures such as the frontostriatal circuit, which does mediate behaviour.

          • by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Sunday June 01, 2014 @11:54PM (#47144725) Homepage Journal

            Now that I've had a chance to sit down and read through both the study and a few other things... you're correct, but it's not completely clear-cut, at least in my opinion, that the changes under consideration actually relate to reward-seeking, addict-like behaviour and aren't simply, say, a lack of sexual development due to being single.

            They found a variety of different features in their test subjects (actual anatomical differences, differences in activity level within the caudate, differences in interconnectedness between pudamen and caudate...) and saw these were strongly correlated with level of pornography use, on the basis of addiction. However, there were some people in the study who used alcohol in a mildly problematic way. They showed only a r = ~0.25 (weak positive correlation) with porn usage. That strikes me as pretty inconsistent—if these are pathways strongly implicated in addictive behaviour, why didn't the drunks line up more neatly with their data? They don't mention alcoholism again in the discussion, except to draw parallels between porn usage and various forms of drug usage, and to suggest psychiatrists should ask about porn usage.

            • by raymorris (2726007) on Monday June 02, 2014 @03:06AM (#47145201)

              Alcoholism would be among the least useful compulsive behaviors to compare because a large percentage of alcoholics metabolize alcohol differently than non-alcoholics. Therefore a significant portion of the problem is purely physical, not behavioral or centered in the brain. Potheads might be a better comparison - as far as we know, everyone's body processes THC in essentially the same way. There are of course many other compulsive behaviors that seem to be purely psychological / behavioral / brain-based, as opposed to being caused in part by differences in other bodily systems.

              Specifically, we know that the difference in alcohol processing is not a RESULT of drinking because non-drinkers who were siblings of alcoholics often displayed the same trait. It appears likely that these siblings were genetically predisposed to become alcoholics, but had not activated the condition by introducing alcohol into their system. The metabolic difference happens after alcohol turns into acetaldehyde. Most people have TWO enzymes that quickly break down the acetaldehyde. Many alcoholics are missing one of the two enzymes, which is controlled by a certain gene that has been mapped. With one of the enzymes missing, the acetaldehyde remains for a much longer period of time. During the period that acetaldehyde is present in significant amounts, the alcoholic experiences the phenomenon of craving - an overpowering desire for more alcohol. Therefore, it seems that alcoholism is largely caused by the lack of an important enzyme, rather than a difference in brain function.

              Of course, if a person who is missing the enzyme never becomes intoxicated in the first place, the craving will not be triggered. Also, there are many people who drink excessively but do not lack the enzyme and therefore probably do not have the craving effect. There are of course behavioral and psychological factors involved for these people, who could be called "hard drinkers".

              • by rastos1 (601318)

                Therefore, it seems that alcoholism is largely caused by the lack of an important enzyme, rather than a difference in brain function.

                Does it mean that we can supply the enzyme to the body and cure alcoholism?

                • by raymorris (2726007) on Monday June 02, 2014 @10:04AM (#47146359)

                  Consider another well-known disease that involves a missing compound needed for metabolism - diabetes. Supplying insulin helps a diabetic patient, but doesn't "cure" the disease.

                  It certainly seems plausible that by identifying people who lack the enzyme and either a) providing the enzyme or b) warning them of the problem, many cases could be avoided. People who lack the enzyme but abstain from alcohol seem to be okay generally, so that would seem a reasonable strategy. However, digestion of food creates alcohol, so that's an area where further study may be needed.

                  The other thing is, once you take care of the enzyme in an active alcoholic, you're left with just a regular drug addict - alcohol is a drug, of course. You've treated the thing that makes alcohol addicts different from other addicts, but they're still an addict. We know also that alcoholism includes some positive feedback cycles. People often have a drink when negative events happens in their lives. When they drink excessively, that causes more negative events. The alcoholic typically ends up in a cycle of dependency. Indeed, it seems that many people identified as alcoholic have only the psychological dependance and are not lacking the indicated enzyme. Enzyme therapy therefore wouldn't be expected to work in these "type II" drinkers. It may turn "type I" (enzymatic alcoholics) into type II (psychologically dependent), but that doesn't seem to be a huge win. Enzyme therapy would probably need to be combined with treatment for the psychological side as well

                  Looking at it another way, there are two primary issues with alcoholics. A) when they drink, they can't stop and B) they start drinking, even given the knowledge of B. Treating A doesn't fix the odd metal obsession that we see manifested in B.

              • That may call into question cause, but not consequence; if pursuing a drug addiction causes behavioural changes (which alcoholism certainly does, even when sober) then it is not unreasonable to assume some alteration in activity or structure of the striatum comes as a result of this. The paper cites previous work on the topic, saying that alcoholism (and drug addiction in general) is indeed correlated with changes in the striatum, so I wouldn't really question that part of it too vigorously. My complaint is basically that they seem to be violating a triangle inequality: the brain change is tightly correlated with two addictive behaviours in the sample, but they're only weakly correlated with each other. It sounds to me like porn is correlated with novel changes in the same region.
        • by kimvette (919543)

          > Don't assume it means anything—the striatum's primary function is coordinating motor control.

          Perhaps it does not have to develop as much when all it is controlling is muscles for the elbow and wrist? ;)

      • by Belial6 (794905) on Sunday June 01, 2014 @07:49PM (#47143795)
        It goes beyond that. Much of what we see day to day in technically non-porn magazines, billboards, TV commercials, signage in department stores, etc. would have been considered to be porn at various times in our history. Heck, when I was assigned to read, "The Scarlet Letter" in high school, it was immediately clear that it wasn't great writing. It was just 1800's porn.

        Porn is not really an easily defined term. Any study that wants to be taken seriously needs to be very explicit as to what they are defining as "porn".
        • by Ol Olsoc (1175323)

          Any study that wants to be taken seriously needs to be very explicit as to what they are defining as "porn".

          Well, Duh, porn ain't worth squat if it isn't explicit.

        • Heck, when I was assigned to read, "The Scarlet Letter" in high school, it was immediately clear that it wasn't great writing. It was just 1800's porn.

          Its good to know that you were such a fine literary critic as to dismiss one of the classic pieces of American literature in high school. Not everyone is certain of just how smart they are and how dumb everyone else is in high school.

          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by Belial6 (794905)
            Well, some high school students can identify that trashy novels about married chicks banging reverends would be porn in the 1800's while some people can never see the obvious because an "expert" told them that the novel was quality writing. The later will spend their lives thinking that the writing is so incredible that 'only the worthy can see it!'.
            • Forgive me if I dont think being in high school lit qualifies one to remark on the merits of literature. And frankly it isnt surprising that a highschooler holds a high view of himself and a condescending view towards others.

              And-- its been about a decade and a half-- but as I recall there were significant themes of revenge, forgiveness, guilt, and so on in the book. It was also one of the first views I (and Im sure many others) got of puritan culture from a writer of the period.

              • by Belial6 (794905)
                Being in high school lit doesn't qualify one to recognize that The Scarlet letter is antique porn. Being a thinking human qualifies one to recognize it. Even if they are only in high school lit. The fact that you couldn't recognize the difference between what I said, and what you heard is a good indication on why you can't see the obvious and must rely on an 'expert' to tell you what is and isn't good writing.

                significant themes of revenge, forgiveness, guilt

                There is plenty of that in modern porn too. That in no way indicates quality writing.

                It was also one of the first views I (and Im sure many others) got of puritan culture from a writer of the period.

                Your ignor

        • Much of what we see day to day in technically non-porn magazines, billboards, TV commercials, signage in department stores, etc. would have been considered to be porn at various times in our history.

          Ha! I knew it! Advertising causes smaller brains!

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by jandersen (462034)

          Porn is not really an easily defined term.

          I would tend to disagree - and you hint at the definition yourself: "...it was immediately clear that it wasn't great writing. It was just 1800's porn." I think one of the things that make up porn is the fact that it is void of anything worthwhile, unless you appreciate its one selling point. In fact, you can extend the definition of porn to a lot of other products that use media to deliver this kind of monotonous, narrowly focused form without content. Like computer games that are all gore and no story, or

          • by Belial6 (794905)
            You are using a completely different definition than the vast majority of the rest of the population. Thus my point stands.
        • If it makes your dick hard, it's porn.

          That's easy, but subjective. There is a wide range of subject matter that is porn for *somebody*, but not necessarily everybody. Since the study measures consumption is hours per week, it would appear that the data for hours is self-reported, so each subject applies their own definition to their viewing habits

          • by Belial6 (794905)
            So, http://xhamster.com/ [xhamster.com] isn't porn if it is being watched by a guy that is impotent? And women or physically incapable of watching porn?

            If they are using each person's individual definition of porn, then their data is completely invalid. They in no way measured porn consumption.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 01, 2014 @08:50PM (#47144091)

        Much more importantly, the study found correlation to *self reported porn watching*. Thus it's much more likely what they found was reverse correlation to willingness to lie, or any other number of social constructs.

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        Hahaha. But don't assume. OP left out something that is important to keep in mind here: most people in modern society watch pornography to some extent. They even admit to it in polls (which means the polls probably don't count everybody who really does).

        Only by strenuously avoiding advertising can one avoid pornography. You only see soft-core stuff in public places, to be sure, but pornography is material designed to arouse the prurient interest. The definition does not include "not for commercial gain", oh the irony if it did. How many people do you know that look away from commercials because they contain an attractive person, dressed so as to accentuate their attributes? They're watching porn.

    • The truth is that the brain region is used for lying, it is smaller in men who admit to watching porn and larger for men who lie about it.

      In women it is about the size of a coconut.

    • by Z00L00K (682162)

      I think that the correlation and cause is interesting here, and I doubt that the brain shrinks because the person watches porn, it's more likely that the reward processing area is small from the beginning and therefore requires more stimuli to produce the sufficient effect.

      Another question is also if the persons with restrictions in the reward processing drives themselves harder than those with a more developed reward processing. This leads to the counterpart - the person with a well-developed reward area t

  • by symbolset (646467) * on Sunday June 01, 2014 @05:55PM (#47143231) Journal
    Where did they find them?
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 01, 2014 @06:01PM (#47143285)

      I watched a TED talk about the effect of pornography on the male brain and the presenter described how difficult it was for him to find control subjects for his study.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Somehow I'd bet the brain area in question is larger in compulsive liars, regardless of the exposure to adult entertainment.

      • by WillKemp (1338605) on Sunday June 01, 2014 @07:53PM (#47143817) Homepage

        I watched a TED talk about the effect of pornography on the male brain and the presenter described how difficult it was for him to find control subjects for his study.

        That suggests that they've got their idea of "control" back to front.

      • Probably this one:

        http://youtu.be/wSF82AwSDiU [youtu.be]

        This video started a journey for me that is still continuing. Anyone interested should check out the links in the About text on the YouTube page.

        The correlation reported in the study was relative to hours per week (actually, the square root of that), so although there were no full abstainers there were some participants who watched less porn than others.

    • by kesuki (321456) on Sunday June 01, 2014 @06:23PM (#47143409) Journal

      "Where did they find them?"

      after the teenage burst, its really easy to quit porn. when i was a teen porn there was no such thing as too much porn, but the older i got the less interested in it i was. i think my record is 3 years no porn and of course no masturbation. but then again i am not typical and haven't even had sex, despite being 36 years old. and yes i am still living in my parents basement. but i pay rent to them they needed the extra income and they are getting older and it is good to see them once in a while.

      • by schnell (163007) <me&schnell,net> on Sunday June 01, 2014 @11:39PM (#47144671) Homepage

        i think my record is 3 years no porn and of course no masturbation. but then again i am not typical and haven't even had sex, despite being 36 years old.

        Correct. You are not typical. Your experience may be very normal in a community you would identify with such as asexuality [asexuality.org], or it could potentially be associated with a disorder, such as hyposexuality [wikipedia.org].

        Your situation may be entirely healthy and rewarding for you, and that's great. And, frankly, you have probably saved a lot of money, time and heartache compared to many of us on the other side of that spectrum! I would just caution you not to use it as a yardstick for most other people in judging questions of sexuality.

    • by tloh (451585)

      Amish communities?

  • Does Size Matter? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 01, 2014 @06:04PM (#47143295)

    Seeing as we have no evidence that such an area being smaller is a good or a bad thing I would caution away from using this information as anything more than an observation.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 01, 2014 @06:11PM (#47143337)

      Your girlfriend or wife will say no, it's how you use it, but that's only a half truth.

      Someone with a smaller striatum who knows how to use it is likely going to give more pleasure than someone with a large striatum who is clueless about how the female brain works, but women prefer someone with a large striatum who knows how to use it over either.

      Of course, your striatum can be too large - and despite what you see in the movies, women do not like having their hippocampus jostled by some monster brainpart.

      • by Phroggy (441)

        Your girlfriend or wife will say no, it's how you use it, but that's only a half truth.

        Someone with a smaller striatum who knows how to use it is likely going to give more pleasure than someone with a large striatum who is clueless about how the female brain works, but women prefer someone with a large striatum who knows how to use it over either.

        Of course, your striatum can be too large - and despite what you see in the movies, women do not like having their hippocampus jostled by some monster brainpart.

        You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. [youtube.com]

      • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

        Condoms are the biggest factor in sexual pleasure for both partners. It's really hard to find good ones that fit, at least in my experience, and using the wrong ones is no good for either partner. Of course it's better not to use them at all if you have no concerns about disease or pregnancy, but depending on your lifestyle that might not be possible.

        Someone needs to invent something better than a condom.

    • by afgam28 (48611)

      Does size matter? Not when you're fapping to porn I guess.

    • The portion of the brain that shrinks is the region which helps one distinguish attractive women from nasty sluts.
      • I'm not certain the two are mutually exclusive.

        Chances are, a person who possesses the physical characteristics most folks find attractive will have more opportunities to engage in the dance with no pants. If s/he turns down 90% of them, s/he may still have a more complete dance card than a discerning average-looking test subject with a 50% rejection rate.

        Does a greater number of partners equal greater probability of being referred to as Jezebel, the noble slut god?

  • by KiloByte (825081) on Sunday June 01, 2014 @06:05PM (#47143297)

    In other words, people with a smaller brain region are less capable of speaking the truth.

    • And KiloBytes seem to have a problem with reading comprehension.

      • by KiloByte (825081)

        There are three kinds of men:
        * those who admit to watching porn / ogling women /etc
        * those who lie
        * those below the age of 12

        • I think binarylarry's assumption is that people lie by saying they don't read/watch/use porn when they do, rather than lie that they do when they don't. (Based on the assumption that it's socially more acceptable to deny that accusation.) And therefore, the ones claiming non-use are the liars, and thus the larger striatum was a component of the propensity of or capacity for lying.

  • Has this study been peer reviewed yet?
  • by The_Star_Child (2660919) on Sunday June 01, 2014 @06:09PM (#47143325)
    So all guys have a smaller region of the brain?
  • More pseudoscience. They say that they're not sure whether this means that porn shrinks your brain, or if the shrunken brain causes porn viewing. But, this leaves out the very real possibility that this correlation means nothing whatsoever. The site below collects correlations that look pretty convincing in the graphs, but quite obviously are unlikely to be cases of causation in either direction:

    http://www.tylervigen.com/ [tylervigen.com]

    • by Bob_Who (926234)
      They were thinking with the wrong head, perhaps.

      Some of the most inspired ideas came with little heads.

      In fact, to cure "smaller portions" I've noticed porn is a "swell" idea ....

      ... On my slack time, of course.

      ;-)
    • by bunratty (545641)

      Well, sure, there are many correlations among things that obviously have no relationship to each other. If you take all data on all topics under the sun, I'm sure you can find tons of coincidences.

      But we do know that the brain influences behavior, and our experience shapes our brain. Therefore, it stands to reason that it's pretty likely that watching porn causes a small striatum, or a small striatum causes men to watch more porn, or some other factor is causing both. It might be a coincidence from that dat

      • by Belial6 (794905)
        You forgot the possibility that a large striatum causes men to lie about watching porn.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mod prime (3597787)

      It's a technical paper in a medical journal. The intended audience doesn't need to be taught the fundamentals of statistics. That's why it was 'left out'.

  • This is an interesting question to research but I wish TFA wasn't paywalled b/c there are several factors they'd need to address that aren't mentioned in the description.

    1. is this just *watching* porn or watching and fapping...also fapping w/o any physical media stimuli

    2. they'd need to compare a control test with a completely different behavior/stimuli that triggers those same parts of the brain...it's "reward center" so maybe something with video games or receiving compliments on your appearance

    3. what about actual sex? does it do the same thing to this part of the brain? I know /.'ers probably can't imagine this but it's possible to have sex too much so I'd definitey need to see if actual sex is any different than their results with porn.

    those are some good starters...plenty of room for further research which means job security ;)

    • by CanadianRealist (1258974) on Sunday June 01, 2014 @06:39PM (#47143471)

      As someone with a long history of depression and high intelligence I've spent quite a bit of time trying to understand my condition. One thing I've noted frequently is that I tend to derive less enjoyment than other people from most activities. (I think this is a cause of the depression rather than a result of it.) The most notable exception is sexual gratification, whether from sex with a partner or from masturbation. I don't find this surprising as I think that it is such a basic part of the way our brains are wired. Given that I am not in a relationship more often than I am, I frequently watch porn to masturbate.

      So in my case, I'd say it seems likely that a deficiency in the part of the brain associated with reward processing causes a greater exposure to porn.

      • by Xenna (37238)

        "I think this is a cause of the depression rather than a result of it."

        Third possibility: it *is* the depression.

  • Striatum (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Znork (31774) on Sunday June 01, 2014 @06:20PM (#47143387)

    The striatum is implicated in ADHD and several studies have indicated reduced grey matter volume in that region for ADHD sufferers. Failure in the dopamine pathways will generally cause engagement in dopamine releasing activities, as a method of self medication.

    So it's not like finding a correlation between dopamine seeking and striatum deficiencies is unexpected. And the most likely direction of causation is that the deficient reward region causes the increased porn watching.

    Frankly I find the gleeful reporting on the issue to be somewhat offensive. Insinuating that what is probably an inherent handicap is something the handicapped did to themselves by being 'immoral' is quite disgusting.

    • This is interesting. I posted elsewhere [slashdot.org] the idea that something like a "striatum deficiency" (as you phrase it) may be the cause of my depression and frequent porn watching. I didn't think of ADHD, but a few years ago I was diagnosed as having ADHD.
    • by Ol Olsoc (1175323)

      Frankly I find the gleeful reporting on the issue to be somewhat offensive. Insinuating that what is probably an inherent handicap is something the handicapped did to themselves by being 'immoral' is quite disgusting.

      That is actually a very good point. The constraints of society are possibly very connected to Pornography and it's use. SO acting like it's all hairy palms and "Yer brain is a-gonna shrink!" is just nastiness.

      Men's primal reproductive urges are not intrinsically tied into monogamy. Whereas women do have a strong interest in getting and keeping one male.

      A male can father a lot of offspring, so it is possible that there was some reproductive advantage to serial partners. From his standpoint. It is interest

  • Are we talking about the big brain or the little brain?

  • ... at least my forearms are huge.

  • The smaller the reward region of the brain, the more porn it takes to activate it.

  • This made it on /. too late, local media here is already spinning it as "porn makes you stupid (and blind)".

  • Well (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 01, 2014 @08:44PM (#47144049)

    Once you jack off to Japanese girls puking in each other's mouths, you can't exactly go back to Playboy.

    • by Ol Olsoc (1175323)

      Once you jack off to Japanese girls puking in each other's mouths, you can't exactly go back to Playboy.

      Or to civilized society for that matter.

  • This article has some very vague commentary in it. For example - "brain volume". What are they measuring exactly? Total brain volume? Seems to imply that, but then later they talk about the size of an individual region of the brain.

    Now, that's interesting because measuring the size of a brain region is quite tricky. For one thing, if a region seems to shrink, then you're mostly looking at activation patterns. It's not like you lose neurons - it's well known that the brain tends to swap and recruit neurons b

  • A larger crotch-region
  • The portion of the brain that they were looking at was the one that comes up with lies. Everyone's been exposed to porn, some just lie about it.
  • I doubt that very much.

  • It would also need to denote how often said individuals had rewarding sex?

    Perhaps these men looking at porn, are also having very little sex. And thus said region is smaler.

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      Perhaps these men looking at porn, are also having very little sex. And thus said region is smaler.

      I think most men have sex while watching porn. Granted, it's probably typically solo...

  • Phrase it this way, and you can extrapolate similarly useless information:
    The striatum is smaller in men who do not attempt to hide the fact that they consume.

    So, is this really about instant gratification, or is this about the fact that you can use brain type to predict the results of a selection bias survey?

If I'd known computer science was going to be like this, I'd never have given up being a rock 'n' roll star. -- G. Hirst

Working...