Men and women differ in amygdala response to visual sexual stimuli

Abstract

Men are generally more interested in and responsive to visual sexually arousing stimuli than are women. Here we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to show that the amygdala and hypothalamus are more strongly activated in men than in women when viewing identical sexual stimuli. This was true even when women reported greater arousal. Sex differences were specific to the sexual nature of the stimuli, were restricted primarily to limbic regions, and were larger in the left amygdala than the right amygdala. Men and women showed similar activation patterns across multiple brain regions, including ventral striatal regions involved in reward. Our findings indicate that the amygdala mediates sex differences in responsiveness to appetitive and biologically salient stimuli; the human amygdala may also mediate the reportedly greater role of visual stimuli in male sexual behavior, paralleling prior animal findings.

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Figure 1: Women's (n = 14) and men's (n = 14) ratings of visual stimuli according to attractiveness and physical arousal.
Figure 2: Regional activation maps.
Figure 3: Average fMRI signal change for males and females for couples, opposite-sex and neutral stimuli (vs. fixation baseline), for ROIs in the left amygdala, right amygdala and hypothalamus.
Figure 4: Regions of significant overlap (conjunction) between group activations for males and females.

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Acknowledgements

This research was supported by the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience, a Science and Technology Center Program of the National Science Foundation, under agreement IBN-9876754.

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Correspondence to Stephan Hamann.

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Hamann, S., Herman, R., Nolan, C. et al. Men and women differ in amygdala response to visual sexual stimuli. Nat Neurosci 7, 411–416 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1038/nn1208

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