Thursday, May 31, 2007

The HOT or NOT "Social Attention" Study

OR, "why men are much greater consumers of pornography than women."

Dr Petra? Dr Petra...? Paging Dr Petra... Too bad she's on vacation, she would certainly have a field day with this news story (and the original research that spawned it):
Why men like to gaze on the female form
By Roger Highfield, Science Editor

Men find photos of the opposite sex much more "rewarding" than women, new research claims today.

According to the study men take the same pleasure out of looking at an attractive female form as they do from having a curry or making money whereas women do not take any significant reward from looking at pictures of men.

The survey published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B said that brain scan studies show that "reward centres" are triggered in men when they gaze at a woman's face or body whereas they are not in females. It also shows men are more likely to make an effort to view pictures of the opposite sex and pay out money.

The findings shed light on why men are much greater consumers of pornography than women and why sales of Playboy have always exceeded those of Playgirl, according to Dr Benjamin Hayden at the Centre for Neuroeconomic Studies, Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, North Carolina.

. . .

Yes, the experiment by Hayden and colleagues (2007) actually did use images taken from the HOT or NOT site:

Two databases were generated containing over 2000 male and 2000 female images. All images were downloaded from the Hotornot web site ( in July 2006. This publicly accessible web site allows anyone to post a photo and receive average attractiveness ratings from the browsing public. We selected images that had only a single central subject with a clearly visible face. We eliminated photos which were blurry or small, photos with animals or displays of wealth, photos in which emotionally salient objects such as guns, snakes or motorcycles were visible, photos with subjects in provocative sexual positions or with nudity and photos in which the subjects appeared to be younger than 18 years old.

We ignored the web site's posted ratings and reassessed attractiveness in a laboratory environment. Eleven males each rated all 2000 female photographs in the female database. Eleven females each rated all 2000 male photographs in the male database. Raters were not used as test subjects in subsequent experiments. Ratings were made on a PC using a program that displayed each photo for 1s and then waited for a rating. Raters could press a button to view each photograph again. The instructions asked raters to rate each image for attractiveness on a scale from 1 to 10.

Note that none of the images were pornographic in nature, but that didn't stop Mr. Highfield from extrapolating the results to purchases of Playboy. The Daily Telegraph article also leads you to believe it's a neuroimaging study, but it's not.
Hayden BY, Parikh PC, Deaner RO, Platt ML. Economic principles motivating social attention in humans. Proc Biol Sci. 2007 May 8; [Epub ahead of print].

We know little about the processes by which we evaluate the opportunity to look at another person. We propose that behavioural economics provides a powerful approach to understanding this basic aspect of social attention. We hypothesized that the decision process culminating in attention to another person follows the same economic principles that govern choices about rewards such as food, drinks and money. Specifically, such rewards are discounted as a function of time, are tradable for other rewards, and reinforce work. Behavioural and neurobiological evidence suggests that looking at other people can also be described as rewarding, but to what extent these economic principles apply to social orienting remains unknown. Here, we show that the opportunity to view pictures of the opposite sex is discounted by delay to viewing, substitutes for money and reinforces work. The reward value of photos of the opposite sex varied with physical attractiveness and was greater in men, suggesting differential utility of acquiring visual information about the opposite sex in men and women. Together, these results demonstrate that choosing whom to look at follows a general set of economic principles, implicating shared neural mechanisms in both social and non-social decision making.
It won't be long before we see the fMRI version.

ADDENDUM: for a discussion of this paper by an economist, see purple motes.

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At May 31, 2007 12:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Man no. 1 - HOT
Man no. 2 - NOT
Woman - NOT

When's the gay version of this study; jeez it wouldnt have been difficult to get (gay) male and female raters in there would it

At May 31, 2007 3:49 PM, Blogger The Neurocritic said...

Greetings Anonymous,

You might be interested in the Gay or Eurotrash site, which pre-dates HOT or NOT by a number of years.

At June 02, 2007 5:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anonymous is clearly incorrect.
Man no. 1 is dysmorphic.
Man no. 2 is poorly lit.
The photograph of the woman is striking, but women who don't make eye contact never dated me, so pursuing her would not be ultimately worthwhile.
On a more scientific note, if these were photos used in the study or if the photos were similarly uncontrolled for things like direction of gaze, I would suggest that the study is NOT HOT. And I could go on, but I am in a pretty grouchy mood, so I probably shouldn't.

At June 02, 2007 1:09 PM, Blogger John Ryan Elward said...

That would explain my problem.

At June 03, 2007 7:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A male friend with long wavy black hair once told me that the following was a frequent experience while driving:

"A male would pass me, craning his neck to stare at me with a disgusted/stunned look on his face."

These male drivers were bored on their drive, and pushed the leve hoping for a squirt of orange juice and got instead of squirt of vinegar.

At June 04, 2007 10:20 AM, Blogger The Neurocritic said...

Ah yes, direction of gaze is important both experimentally and in potential pick-up situations...

BAP - wonder how long that squirt of vinegar served as a deterrent?

At June 05, 2007 8:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh, don't worry. inside sources reveal that the fmri study is certainly in the works (with all of its poorly-constructed stimulus set glory).

At June 05, 2007 9:26 AM, Blogger The Neurocritic said...


At June 05, 2007 3:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If men get endogenous rewards by looking at an attractive female face, I understand better something that used to irritate me: deep in thought on public transit, possibly frowning, a nearby male would admonish me to "smile". His tone of voice would imply I was doing something wrong.

It was as if my frown was keeping him from a reward -- as if I'm not doing my job because I was preventing his visual reward. Fortunately unknown men stopped telling me to "smile" once I had some grey hair, ha ha.

At June 11, 2007 3:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your question is very genuine but i don't want to comment anything. Anyways nice blog.

Thanx & Regards,
ASP Senna Traders


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