As a researcher on the topic of sexuality, I am often looking into the effects that sex in the media could have on its recipients. Recently I came across a line of research that suggests that sexual cues on television or in magazines might just influence us in very subtle ways.
Apparently, being exposed to, or primed by, sex can change the way we perceive the world. Simple cues that have to do with sex can change people’s focus to the ‘here and now’, and thus induce a local and analytical way of processing. This in contrast to cues of love, which make people process information around us in a more global and creative way, focusing on long-term situations.
But that’s not all.
Other aspects of our life are influenced indirectly through these different ways of processing information. For instance, local processing increases sexual objectification of women (i.e., women are more likely to be reduced to their sexual body parts). Also, being primed with love improves our ability to find creative solutions for a task, whereas being primed with sex improves our performance at an analytic task. And even very subtle reminders of sex (for instance, pictures of lipstick-kisses or Marilyn Monroe) can reduce our ability to make healthy eating choices.
This made me wonder: could it be that many of the effects of sexual media content are actually the result of sex-primes changing our way of processing? And, if sex-priming can have such a variety of effects through inducing local processing, what else could it lead to? It may be a bit far-stretched, but if sex-priming makes us focus on the here and now, could this explain why the rise of the sexualized media environment seems to go hand in hand with the hedonistic lifestyles of many people these days? It’s an interesting thought, and a source of inspiration for new research. Maybe I come up with a creative experiment soon. I think I’ll watch a romantic comedy first though.
Forster, J., Epstude, K., & Ozelsel, A. (2009). Why Love Has Wings and Sex Has Not: How Reminders of Love and Sex Influence Creative and Analytic Thinking Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 35 (11), 1479-1491 DOI: 10.1177/0146167209342755
Gervais, S., Vescio, T., Förster, J., Maass, A., & Suitner, C. (2012). Seeing women as objects: The sexual body part recognition bias European Journal of Social Psychology, 42 (6), 743-753 DOI: 10.1002/ejsp.1890
Raska, D., & Nichols, B. (2012). Using subtle reminders of love to foster healthy snack choices Journal of Consumer Behaviour DOI: 10.1002/cb.1381