Award Date


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology



First Committee Member

Marta Meana

Second Committee Member

Joel Snyder

Third Committee Member

Murray Millar

Fourth Committee Member

Peter Gray

Number of Pages



Research investigating the relationship between subjective sexual arousal and physiological arousal has focused primarily on measures of genital arousal and has yielded only modest concordance rates between genital and subjective sexual arousal in men, and low concordance rates in women. One of the nagging confounds in the literature, however, has been the fact that different assessment methods are necessitated by men and women's differing genital physiology (i.e., vaginal photoplethysmography in women and penile plethysmography in men). This study sought to investigate the relationship between subjective sexual arousal and a different type of physical arousal (brain activation) that could be measured in the same fashion for men and women (EEG) and that arguably should have a closer relationship to the mental and emotional experience of sexual arousal. Subjective sexual arousal and ERPs to auditory tones (specifically, auditory N1 and P3 amplitudes) were collected from 19 heterosexual women and 19 heterosexual men while they viewed a film of a man and a woman cooking a meal, and an erotic film of a man and a woman engaging in oral and penetrative sex. There were three main hypotheses: that men would report significantly more subjective sexual arousal to the erotic film than women; that men would evidence significantly smaller N1s and P3s when viewing the erotic film than women; and that participants' subjective sexual arousal would significantly correlate positively with N1 amplitudes and negatively with P3 amplitudes in the erotic film condition. We did not expect a gender difference in these correlations. Contrary to the first hypothesis, women reported more sexual arousal to the erotic film than did men. In terms of the second hypothesis, we failed to find a gender by film-type interaction on N1, but we did find a significant gender by film-type by order interaction on P3 ERP amplitudes. Simple effects revealed that men evidenced significantly smaller P3 amplitude to the cooking film than did women. Lastly, there was partial support for the third hypothesis: We found a significant positive correlation between N1 amplitude and subjective sexual arousal in men, as well as a significant negative correlation between the P3 amplitude and subjective sexual arousal in women. Results are interpreted to possibly indicate that sexual arousal may interfere with early processing of tones for men, while it may interfere with later processing of tones for women. Furthermore, concordance rates between ERP/subjective sexual arousal were stronger than the average concordance rates between genital plethysmography/subjective sexual arousal for both men and women. More research should be conducted to investigate whether ERPs are more closely aligned with reports of subjective sexual arousal in men and women and to test the replicability of gender differences in concordances between N1 amplitudes and subjective sexual arousal and P3 amplitudes and subjective sexual arousal found in this study.


Arousal (Physiology); Brain—Psychophysiology; Electroencephalography; Sexual excitement



File Format


Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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