No Porn, Better Working Memory? (2012)

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LightbulbUpdate: Multiple studies link porn use to poorer cognitive outcomes. See this list: Studies linking porn use to poorer mental-emotional health & poorer cognitive outcomes.


Research finds porn imagery lowers cognitive function

Early Adolescent Boys’ exposure to Internet pornography: Relationships to pubertal timing, sensation seeking, and academic performance This rare longitudinal study (over a six-month period) suggests that porn use decreases academic performance.

In another study, German scientists have discovered that Internet erotica can diminish working memory. Working memory is the ability to keep information in mind while using it to complete a task or deal with a challenge. For example, it's the capacity to juggle various bits of information as you do a math problem or keep the characters straight as you read a story. It helps you hold your goal in mind, resist distractions and inhibit impulsive choices, so it's critical to learning and planning.

A consistent research finding is that addiction-related cues hinder working memory. Interestingly, alcoholics who underwent one month of training to improve working memory saw a decrease in alcohol intake and better scores on working memory. In other words, improving working memory seems to strengthen impulse control.

In the porn-imagery experiment, 28 healthy individuals performed working-memory tasks using 4 different sets of pictures, one of which was pornographic. Participants also rated the pornographic pictures with respect to sexual arousal and masturbation urges prior to, and after, pornographic picture presentation. Results showed that working memory was worst during the porn viewing and that greater arousal augmented the drop. (More of the researchers' analysis below.)

So, will you be all set if you just close the porn tabs while doing algebra? It's a good start, but keep reading.

Porn and long-term impact on concentration

The above study only measured the effects of short-term erotica use. However, addiction neuroscientists have repeatedly shown that Internet addiction produces lasting memory and concentration problems in some users.

Judging from the rapid improvements that some users often see after they quit porn, it appears that one needn't be an addict to be adversely affected.

Before we analyze the relevant research, let's consider what ex-users report about post-porn changes in concentration. (More self-reports can be found at the end of this post.):

  • "This may have nothing to do with it but since I've quit my thinking and my mind have become a lot sharper. As I mentioned above I enrolled in online college classes I seriously kicked *** in these classes. My ability to retain knowledge is many times stronger and I can focus much better."
  • "I have noticed I can retain pictorial information significantly better than pre-reboot. Discovered it by accident when I looked at a diagram in a text book and realised I did not need to look at it again as I could still recall the image in good detail. Can also remember faces better."
  • "I am able to get more work done both at my job and in my part-time business. I can concentrate for longer."
  • "I have felt massive memory improvements during the course of my reboot [abstention from masturbation to porn]. I feel like I'm mentally switched on and present for the first time in my life. I now have an attention span. I feel like for the previous 10 years I couldn't focus on anything and I couldn't remember anything."
  • "[Day 68] I feel like my brain is healing.  When I started this re-boot, I listed the following symptoms that I felt like weight on my shoulders:
    1. lack of motivation
    2. irritability
    3. brain fog
    4. inability to concentrate
    5. mood swings
    6. social anxiety
  • Today, I am proud to state here that I no longer suffer from any of these symptoms.  My moods are much more "steady".  People are starting to notice.  The anxiety is GONE. My concentration is crystal clear; my motivation for life is very high."

Improved concentration and memory are among the most commonly reported post-porn benefits, and they may be explained by the reversal of addiction-related brain changes. (Other frequently reported benefits after giving up highspeed porn are decreased social anxiety and depression, improved sexual performance, greater attraction to real mates, seeing potential partners as people rather sex-aids, and return to earlier sexual tastes.)

What do the scientists say?

Neuroscientists have recently isolated addiction-related brain changes that could account for cognitive impairment, such as decreased gray matter in the frontal cortex and disorganized white matter. Not surprisingly, brain studies show that Internet addicts suffer from impaired inhibitory control and increased impulsivity. (Note that while some of the Internet addiction studies discussed in this section include online erotica use, none isolate it—unlike the working memory experiment that is the subject of this post.)

Brain studies on Internet addicts also reveal another change that can impair concentration: a measurable decline in dopamine signaling. Dopamine is central to concentration, focus, motivation and memory formation, and low dopamine signaling is strongly associated with poor working memory (monkeys too) and ADHD.

Boredom warning signIt appears that inattention (which in turn impairs memory) is really caused by lack of motivation (reduced D2 dopamine receptors). Tasks seem boring or uninteresting. Decreased dopamine signaling in the brain's reward circuitry is a hallmark of all addictions

Researchers measuring dopamine transporters in people with Internet addiction said:

Taken together, these results suggest that IAD [Internet addiction disorder] may cause serious damage to the brain and the neuroimaging findings further illustrate IAD is associated with dysfunctions in the dopaminergic brain systems. Our findings also support the claim that IAD may share similar neurobiological abnormalities with other addictive disorders.

Questionnaire-based Internet addiction studies (that is, studies without brain imaging) have also found decreased working memory, poor information processing and impaired executive control. Their results also line up with ADD/ADHD findings.

The most significant bit of evidence may come from one study, which also followed recovering Internet addicts. Brain scans showed reversal of brain changes and better cognitive function. Said one group of researchers:

After treatment, in all groups, the [Internet Addiction] score was lowered significantly ... and scores of short-term memory capacity and short-term memory span increased significantly.

In other words, perhaps a more long-term strategy is called for than just closing porn tabs while doing homework. 'Don't forget' sticky

Cues, Cravings and Addiction

Researchers designed the current working-memory study in part because individual porn users report problems during or after Internet porn consumption, such as neglecting or forgetting responsibilities, missing appointments and losing sleep, leading to negative consequences. The scientists note that their findings might indicate the cognitive mechanisms contributing to loss of control over use of Internet porn:

Internet sex participants' executive functioning could be reduced during their engagement in Internet sex, since [working memory] is a necessary and important factor of goal-directed behaviors. ... One might argue that if subjects' attention to sexual stimuli and subsequent sexual arousal interfered with executive functioning and decision making, then they might be less able to monitor and control their own Internet sex use.

Researchers emphasized that subjective arousal while watching porn is the main predictor of degree of problems from Internet sex (as opposed to time spent watching and various other factors). The scientists noted parallels with substance addicts, for whom addiction-related cues lead to stronger attention capturing, high craving and an increased probability of relapse. They propose that a strong need to masturbate in response to porn might reflect underlying cravings and signal the presence of addiction.

In short, porn users who quit porn and then notice improvements in concentration and memory aren't imagining those improvements. The evidence suggests the improvements come down to the reversal of addiction-related alterations in the brain.

If you need a laugh: The Time I Doubled My IQ (Dilbert's creator)


More self-reports relevant to concentration and Internet porn use:

"I think I'm on day thirteen or so now. I feel very focused and can concentrate better than usual. I keep eye contact when talking to people, and socialising feels more stable. I think my voice is deeper and sounds less "bothered" and more clear."


"When I was [using Internet porn] I had like this brain fog or constant hungover-like feeling, which made it hard for me to concentrate, talk to people or just do my everyday tasks. After 7-10 days this feeling went away. My mind became very clear, thoughts easy controllable, and I became much more relaxed in general."


"My memory has improved. I have very explicit dreams. Conversation is easy. I feel hungry again (metaphorically speaking)."


It's been 9 days since I looked at porn, masturbate, and orgasm. No pmo for me. I can't believe how clear my head feels already. This white noise, clutter, need, that was always On The Fringe of my  thoughts has already subsided greatly. https://www.reddit.com/r/NoFap/comments/5myg1d/9_days_my_mental_health_has_dramatically_improved/


Age 26 - Less shy & anxious, More energy & motivation, No more brain fog, ADHD is better


"I feel much more in control and calm now. Things are really going well for me now (in terms of my financial problems etc). My ability to concentrate and think logically has skyrocketed without the fog."

 


"I am currently at 14 days and it's an easy ride so far. The benefits I have noticed are vastly increased concentration and focus."


Better cognition- I didn't even realize the extent to which porn affected my brain until I got 4 c's on my transcript and lost my love for reading because my intellectual stimulation was gone. College is not very easy, especially with a technical major, but I struggled more that the real me should have. But after joining nofap, this spring semester despite being the hardest(last semester, 7 classes), I had the best performance ever and I'm back on the dean’s list with all As and B+s. My mind has been so much clearer, I can think through and stay motivated even when thing don't work out the first time. I went from being a struggling student to the person everyone wants to collaborate with. Oh and I graduated last week! 100 Days!!!!


"It's crazy, but before when I would PMO daily, doing Accounting problem sets for my Accounting classes would be a real chore, difficult if i was even able to starts them. As I've started building up little streaks here and there (my last one of my longest) it is starting to feel good to do my class assignments. I feel a pressure to do them, procrastinating has an intense feeling, pushing me to start. Before I felt no pressure to start. I start feeling relieved as i work on them ,good to great when I finish an assignment. Whereas before I would feel nothing, no sense of accomplishment, just numbness if I accomplished an assignment."


"Some of the benefits I have experienced: I am more sociable, I can retain and remember information a lot better. I remember events in my past life a lot better. I am not irritable, and am more focused. I can execute tasks a lot faster."


"Another really significant change is dream frequency or dream recall. I have had, and remembered, more dreams than ever since quitting porn. Don’t know what it is. Maybe my brain was exhausted by the porn before bed and didn't have the energy to dream or something."


"14 days - I'm amazed at how I remember all these details about her, whereas previously I would just be looking at a girls boobs, and if they weren't fake I wasn't interested."


"I've been prescribed adderall for years. I've noticed that when I am on a good streak my mind and ambitions were on a "natural" adderall even when i dont take it. It comes and goes but I feel motivated, i process information faster, and I've developed a higher tolerance for mundane work. I've read on this subreddit that lots of people have gotten off adderall doing nofap and I am very excited for my chance to do the same."


"I've found my vocabulary has returned to a level that I remember it being at years ago."


I'm a sophomore engineering student and had rather a hard time in class as a freshman with concentration and the ability to stay motivated for my assignments.

I started PMO at 13 and I was a good student beforehand with mostly As in school up until midway through high school. I was 16 and just didn't care anymore. I was failing  classes and barely made it out of there. I got into college still with a fair amount of good test scores, and still had trouble with PMO at the age of 20.

I would have trouble with getting to reach orgasm with any girl I was  with. I now have a girlfriend and we were definitely able to diagnose the problem pretty early. So we both  agreed to refrain from anything sexual and no pornography for quite some time to reverse the effects from these things.

As of today I'm on day 16, I have hit a bit of a point of insanity from how stupid I've been for the past 7 years. It's amazing how clear things are now in class. I feel like I can  solve all the problems in my lectures more easily. I have much more time to study and use more time to my advantage for researching other things that interest me. My  mental fog was beginning to become a major problem as I got older and more frequent with porn. Now I can see so much more clearly what the world has to offer. Mental Fog coming from an engineer


"I can do other things. I feel other things. I want and desire other things. I am no longer always seeking my next fix. Porn images don't have the power they once had over me, nor am I a lust-ball all day. I am starting to finally have a mind that has the concentration to think about other things besides sex."


"Another result: my writing has gotten much better. I don't mean handwriting (though that got better too). I mean word choice, sentence structure, etc. During my first year of graduate school (which I just finished), writing was a real chore. Now, after no-porn, it's a pleasure. So easy and free. I have more words at my disposal, probably because my memory has improved in general."


90 days: -Much less anxiety -More discipline -Improved memory and focus -Increased sex drive with my girlfriend -More assertive -Better judgment.


"[6 weeks] My concentration, my effort, my attention to detail, my memory, my recall, and my social skills have all improved."


"Around the time I started using porn a few years ago, my memory began to fog. My whole life since then seemed like an unidentifiable blob. Now, a few months into recovery, past memories are coming to me. At first, I was in disbelief that they even happened because they are so joyful and carefree. Yet finally, after being frustrated with this for so long, I feel like this IS my life, and those happy memories are real. I have been struggling to feel any connection with my past life and actions. Now that my past is flying back at me, and it all feels terrific. Also, dreams. Even dreams that happened months ago are coming back to me, and it is also quite enjoyable."


"What I have noticed for myself is that abstaining from [porn] has dramatically improved my memory. The interesting thing, which I didn't even realize until just now, is that my blood sugar has been much more stable since I have not been experiencing orgasms. There is a connection between memory and high glucose in the brain or low. I just didn't think about how stable it’s been since NO masturbation to porn. Perhaps dopamine has an effect on how the brain processes sugars."


"3 weeks - My memory is a lot better. I don't have those brain-fart moments like I use to. Now things come to me easily, which is good."


My semester GPA's almost directly correlate with my fapping patterns. Lots of PMO = sleeping in and skipping class. Never realized the problem until now


"I have more energy than before, horny as hell but I can control it. My memory has gotten better. And I've got that social guy, who once lived in me, back. I got my charm back and it is worth every sleepless night and frustrated minute that I spent fighting this addiction.""[90-day report] Clearer mind. My mind had never been more clear in my life within those three months. The lack of fapping and porn really gives you a lot of time to think about your own life and puts everything into perspective."


So I took a 100 question math test today (Math 7-12 teacher certification thing) and while it wasn't the hardest test of my life, it might've been top 5 due to all the material. And it was exhausting (4.5 hours) but I was able to focus the entire time, no anxiety, and walk out confidently knowing I did well. This was without any kind of hardcore studying (currently am math tutoring so I just kind of winged it).

No way would this have been possible without NoFap. In college, the only way I made good grades was by overstudying for material that I knew for sure would be on the test. Day 28 - proof of better focus


"Things I have noticed: decreased anxiety, less mood swings, more social, more confidence, more ballsy when it comes to girls, urge to improve myself, better concentration, smoother talking, good jokes: bad jokes ratio improvement, you get the idea." "(Day 15) - Positive Attitude

  • - Motivation to do everyday tasks (and do them faster)
  • - Sharper memory
  • - More productive
  • - More creative
  • - Desire to take on and embrace responsibilities
  • - Clearer head
  • - Better ability to see the steps necessary to reach an end goal and to implement those steps
  • - CONFIDENCE RETURNING, and continually increasing
  • - General enjoyment of life
  • - More present/attentive in conversations with others
  • - Quicker wit, finding everything more humorous
  • - Greater desire to socialize with others"

"Memory - always had a good one - but quitting put it through the roof. I could enter a room of 15 people and learn+ recall specifically all their phone numbers in under 5 min. GPA 4.  Social anxiety and BS negative thinking ----> out with the trash."


Is students’ computer use at home related to their mathematical performance at school?

"In particular, watching horror, action, or pornographic films was significantly and negatively associated with students’ mathematical competence, whereas watching news on television was not related to students’ performance scores."