Award Date


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Committee Member

Marta Meana

Second Committee Member

Christopher Heavey

Third Committee Member

Michelle Paul

Fourth Committee Member

Jennifer Keene

Number of Pages



When simultaneously presented with male and female erotic visual stimuli, heterosexual women have a significantly less category-specific pattern of visual attention, wherein they spend much more time viewing same sex stimuli than do men. Heterosexual men, on the other hand, have a much more category-specific pattern of visual attention, allocating nearly all of their visual attention to the female stimuli. The present study investigated several proposed explanations for women’s more diffuse visual attention patterns: that heterosexual women may find some arousal value in viewing erotic female images given their greater sexual fluidity/erotic plasticity in comparison to men, that women may be engaging in social comparison with the same-sex images to an extent that men do not, that women may have a more erotic self-focus in comparison to men that translates into visual attention to other women, and/or that women may be empathizing and projectively identifying with the women in the images, given that women appear to have a greater empathic orientation . To test these potential explanations, 117 heterosexual women viewed 12 split-screen slides, each of which featured paired erotic photos of a nude man and a nude woman on each side of the screen, while their gaze patterns were tracked using an eye-tracker. Participants then completed a series of measures designed to assess individual variability on erotic fluidity, tendency toward appearance-based social comparison, erotic self-focus, and empathy orientation. Correlational and regression analyses were used to explore the relationship between women’s visual attention patterns and their endorsements of the afore-mentioned constructs. Participants’ endorsement of greater cognitive/affective arousal toward women (i.e., erotic fluidity) was significantly related to greater visual attention on the female, compared to male, images. It thus appears that, at the level of visual attention, self-identified heterosexual women who are more erotically fluid are more likely to focus on erotic images of nude women. These results support the contention that the visual attention to the female images might be arousal-based and it converges with more recent data on women’s genital arousal patterns to visual sexual stimuli. Social comparison, erotic self-focus, and empathy orientation, as measured in this study, were not significantly related to visual attention patterns. Interpretations of these results, in light of this study’s limitations, are discussed, as are future directions for this line of research.


category specificity; erotic self-focus; female sexuality; projective identification; sexual fluidity; social comparison



File Format


Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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