Ventral striatum activity when watching preferred pornographic pictures is correlated with symptoms of internet pornography addiction (2016)

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New German fMRI study that aligns with the porn addiction model. 

Highlights as stated by the authors:

  • Ventral striatum activity is linked to watching preferred pornographic material
  • Symptoms of Internet pornography addiction are linked to ventral striatum activity
  • Neural basis of Internet pornography addiction is comparable to other addictions

Neuroimage. 2016 Jan 20. pii: S1053-8119(16)00039-2. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2016.01.033.

Brand M1, Snagowski J2, Laier C3, Maderwald S4.


One type of Internet addiction is excessive pornography consumption, also referred to as cybersex or Internet pornography addiction. Neuroimaging studies found ventral striatum activity when participants watched explicit sexual stimuli compared to non-explicit sexual/erotic material. We now hypothesized that the ventral striatum should respond to preferred pornographic compared to non-preferred pornographic pictures and that the ventral striatum activity in this contrast should be correlated with subjective symptoms of Internet pornography addiction. We studied 19 heterosexual male participants with a picture paradigm including preferred and non-preferred pornographic material. Subjects had to evaluate each picture with respect to arousal, unpleasantness, and closeness to ideal. Pictures from the preferred category were rated as more arousing, less unpleasant, and closer to ideal. Ventral striatum response was stronger for the preferred condition compared to non-preferred pictures. Ventral striatum activity in this contrast was correlated with the self-reported symptoms of Internet pornography addiction. The subjective symptom severity was also the only significant predictor in a regression analysis with ventral striatum response as dependent variable and subjective symptoms of Internet pornography addiction, general sexual excitability, hypersexual behavior, depression, interpersonal sensitivity, and sexual behavior in the last days as predictors. The results support the role for the ventral striatum in processing reward anticipation and gratification linked to subjectively preferred pornographic material. Mechanisms for reward anticipation in ventral striatum may contribute to a neural explanation of why individuals with certain preferences and sexual fantasies are at-risk for losing their control over Internet pornography consumption.

KEYWORDS: Cybersex; Gratification processing; Pornography; Reward anticipation; Ventral striatum