Effects of Low Survivability Cues and Participant Sex on Physiological and Behavioral Responses to Sexual Stimuli

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sex, death, life history theory, sexual selection, implicit measures

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According to life history theory, environmental cues indicating that one's future survivability is low increase reproductive effort. This suggests that exposure to low survivability cues will increase people's preparedness to engage in sex. However, according to sexual selection theory and parental investment theory, evolutionary pressures favored a more conservative sexual strategy among women compared to men. We therefore hypothesized that men, but not women, would respond to low survivability cues with increased sexual preparedness. Accordingly, both subliminal and supraliminal death primes (as compared with control primes) led men, but not women, to exhibit increased physiological arousal in response to sexual images (Study 1), and stronger approach-oriented behavioral responses to sexual images (Study 2). Theoretical implications for life history theory are discussed.

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Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, v. 47, issue 6, p. 1219-1224