“Conscious and Non-Conscious Measures of Emotion: Do They Vary with Frequency of Pornography Use?” – Excerpts analyzing Steele et al., 2013

Link to original study – Conscious and Non-Conscious Measures of Emotion: Do They Vary with Frequency of Pornography Use? (2017)

Comments: This 2017 EEG study on porn users cited 3 Nicole Prause EEG studies. The authors believe that all 3 Prause EEG studies actually found desensitization or habituation in frequent porn users (which often occurs with addiction). This is exactly what YBOP has always claimed (explained in this critique: Critique of: Letter to the editor “Prause et al. (2015) the latest falsification of addiction predictions” 2016). Steele et al., 2013 was touted in the media by spokesperson Nicole Prause as evidence against the existence of porn/sex addiction. Contrary to claims, this study actually lends support to the existence of both porn addiction and porn use down-regulating sexual desire. How so? The study reported higher EEG readings (relative to neutral pictures) when subjects were briefly exposed to pornographic photos. Studies consistently show that an elevated P300 occurs when addicts are exposed to cues (such as images) related to their addiction. In line with the Cambridge University brain scan studies, this EEG study also reported greater cue-reactivity to porn correlating with less desire for partnered sex. To put another way – individuals with greater brain activation to porn would rather masturbate to porn than have sex with a real person. Shockingly, study spokesman Nicole Prause claimed that porn users merely had “high libido”, yet the results of the study say something quite different – as this new study points out in the excerpts. Numerous other peer-reviewed papers agree that Steele et al. supports the porn addiction model: Peer-reviewed critiques of Steele et al., 2013

In the excerpts below these 3 citations indicate the following Nicole Prause EEG studies (#14 is Steele et al., 2013):

  • 7 Prause, N.; Steele, V.R.; Staley, C.; Sabatinelli, D. Late positive potential to explicit sexual images associated with the number of sexual intercourse partners. Soc. Cogn. Affect. Neurosc. 2015, 10, 93–100.
  • 8 Prause, N.; Steele, V.R.; Staley, C.; Sabatinelli, D.; Hajcak, G. Modulation of late positive potentials by sexual images in problem users and controls inconsistent with “porn addiction”. Biol. Psychol. 2015, 109, 192–199.
  • 14 – Steele, V.R.; Staley, C.; Fong, T.; Prause, N. Sexual desire, not hypersexuality, is related to neurophysiological responses elicited by sexual images. Socioaffect. Neurosci. Psychol. 2013, 3, 20770

Excerpts describing Steele et al., 2013:

Event-related potentials (ERPs) have often been used as a physiological measure of reactions to emotional cues, e.g., [24]. Studies utilizing ERP data tend to focus on later ERP effects such as the P300 [14] and Late-Positive Potential (LPP) [7, 8] when investigating individuals who view pornography. These later aspects of the ERP waveform have been attributed to cognitive processes such as attention and working memory (P300) [25] as well as sustained processing of emotionally-relevant stimuli (LPP) [26]. Steele et al. [14] showed that the large P300 differences seen between viewing of sexually explicit images relative to neutral images was negatively related to measures of sexual desire, and had no effect on participants’ hypersexuality. The authors suggested that this negative finding was most probably due to the images shown not having any novel significance to the participant pool, as participants all reported viewing high volumes of pornographic material, consequently leading to the suppression of the P300 component. The authors went on to suggest that perhaps looking at the later occurring LPP may provide a more useful tool, as it has been shown to index motivation processes. Studies investigating the effect pornography use has on the LPP have shown the LPP amplitude to be generally smaller in participants who report having higher sexual desire and problems regulating their viewing of pornographic material [7, 8]. This result is unexpected, as numerous other addiction-related studies have shown that when presented with a cue-related emotion task, individuals who report having problems negotiating their addictions commonly exhibit larger LPP waveforms when presented images of their specific addiction-inducing substance [27]. Prause et al. [7, 8] offer suggestions as to why the use of pornography may result in smaller LPP effects by suggesting that it may be due to a habituation effect, as those participants in the study reporting overuse of pornographic material scored significantly higher in the amount of hours spent viewing pornographic material.


Studies have consistently shown a physiological downregulation in processing of appetitive content due to habituation effects in individuals who frequently seek out pornographic material [3, 7, 8]. It is the authors’ contention that this effect may account for the results observed.


Future studies may need to utilise a more up-to-date standardised image database to account for changing cultures. Also, maybe high porn users downregulated their sexual responses during the study. This explanation was at least used by [7, 8] to describe their results which showed a weaker approach motivation indexed by smaller LPP (late positive potential) amplitude to erotic images by individuals reporting uncontrollable pornography use. LPP amplitudes have been shown to decrease upon intentional downregulation [62, 63]. Therefore, an inhibited LPP to erotic images may account for lack of significant effects found in the present study across groups for the “erotic” condition.