Sunday, July 06, 2008

Mirror neurons control erection response to porn

Does anyone find this surprising? Isn't it exactly the effect one would expect mirror neurons to have? (Past discussion here.) However, it is welcome to note basic research that has practical applications...

Mirror neurons control erection response to porn (6/16/08)
You don't have to be a scientist to observe that pornographic images lead to erections in men. But you would have to be one to show those images to volunteers while meticulously measuring the volume of response in the brain and penis.

Harold Mouras, at University of Picardie Jules Verne in Amiens, France, and his colleagues wanted to understand the cerebral underpinnings of visually-induced erections.

They suspected there might be a role for mirror neurons, a special class of brain cell that fires both when people perform an action and when they observe it being performed.

Not a terribly difficult guess to make. So what did they find?
While the volunteers watched the movies, the researchers watched their brains using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

They also kept tabs on the tumescence of the other target organ, using a hand-crafted "penile plethysmograph" – essentially an airtight tube in which the enlarging penis causes measurable pressure changes.

As expected, all the subjects got erections and many parts of the brain lit up.

Interestingly, the volume of the erections correlated with the strength of activation in a part of the brain called the pars opercularis, which is known to display mirror neuron activity. Even more intriguing, the brain activation, say the researchers, precedes the penile response.


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