Pornography and Reduced Brain Power: New Scientific Study Does Not Resolve An Important Question

by Jeff Lindsay (05/28/2014 5:36 pm)
A recent scientific study explored the association between pornography use and brain function. It has spawned news stories like Reuters' "Porn may be messing with your head." But here's the actual scientific publication for those who care: "Brain Structure and Functional Connectivity Associated With Pornography Consumption: The Brain on Porn," by Simone Kühn and Jürgen Gallinat, JAMA Psychiatry, published online May 28, 2014. Doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2014.93. URL:

The study finds significant reduction in brain activity in some parts of the brain associated with porn use. The scientists were not able to determine whether this reduced brain activity is a cause of increased interest in porn or whether the porn use causes the reduced brain function, though they hypothesize that over-stimulation of the brain's reward center could be the cause of impaired brain function elsewhere. Either way, I think it's safe to say that it's smart to avoid porn.

Here's the abstract:
Importance  Since pornography appeared on the Internet, the accessibility, affordability, and anonymity of consuming visual sexual stimuli have increased and attracted millions of users. Based on the assumption that pornography consumption bears resemblance with reward-seeking behavior, novelty-seeking behavior, and addictive behavior, we hypothesized alterations of the frontostriatal network in frequent users.
Objective  To determine whether frequent pornography consumption is associated with the frontostriatal network.

Design, Setting, and Participants  Sixty-four healthy male adults with a broad range of pornography consumption at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, Germany, reported hours of pornography consumption per week. Pornography consumption was associated with neural structure, task-related activation, and functional resting-state connectivity.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Gray matter volume of the brain was measured by voxel-based morphometry and resting state functional connectivity was measured on 3-T magnetic resonance imaging scans.

Results  We found a significant negative association between reported pornography hours per week and gray matter volume in the right caudate (P  < .001, corrected for multiple comparisons) as well as with functional activity during a sexual cue–reactivity paradigm in the left putamen (P < .001). Functional connectivity of the right caudate to the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex was negatively associated with hours of pornography consumption.

Conclusions and Relevance  The negative association of self-reported pornography consumption with the right striatum (caudate) volume, left striatum (putamen) activation during cue reactivity, and lower functional connectivity of the right caudate to the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex could reflect change in neural plasticity as a consequence of an intense stimulation of the reward system, together with a lower top-down modulation of prefrontal cortical areas. Alternatively, it could be a precondition that makes pornography consumption more rewarding.
Remember, to be fair and scientifically accurate, these scientists are not saying that porn necessarily causes the reduced brain function. It could be that reduced brain function increases the tendency to do porn. Thus, an important scientific question remains unresolved: does porn make you stupid, or does stupidity make you do porn? My guess: some of both. Either way, shunning porn is the smart thing to do.

In all seriousness, the impact of porn on people's lives is dramatic in many cases, though they rarely see it themselves. They do not see how their attitudes toward other become more callous, how they become less sensitive and thoughtful, how they become less trustworthy and sometimes, a bit creepy. And surprisingly, some porn users, especially self-styled intellectuals, feel that porn use is what smart people do. Wrong direction, folks. I've seen too much pain and heartache from porn, too many failed marriages and damaged relationships, and just way too much reduced brain function. Do something good for your brain (and spirit) today and flee from porn in every form.
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