Val­i­dat­ing MouseView.js for sex research

Sonia Milani, Uni­ver­si­ty of British Columbia

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Sonia Milani :

My name is Sonia Milani. I’m actu­al­ly not in my PhD yet. I’m actu­al­ly just still, fin­ished my first year of my mas­ter’s in clin­i­cal psych at UBC, but we’re get­ting there. So I’m here today to talk to you about val­i­dat­ing Mou­se­View for sex research. So thank you to Tom, Edwin and Alex for val­i­dat­ing this so that we can use it as a tool.

Sonia Milani :

And so in today’s talk, I will start by pro­vid­ing some back­ground infor­ma­tion to explain the role that atten­tion plays in sex­u­al response and review sex­u­al­i­ty relat­ed research that I’ve used eye track­ing method­ol­o­gy to exam­ine atten­tion. I will then dive into describ­ing the cur­rent study and go over the meth­ods and results. I will con­clude with a dis­cus­sion of what our find­ings sug­gest and as part of that, I will dis­cuss our future plans for this line of research.

Sonia Milani :

So when we talk about sex­u­al response, we are refer­ring to an emo­tion­al state that is made up of phys­i­o­log­i­cal respons­es, such as gen­i­tal sex­u­al arousal, as well as sub­jec­tive response, such as sub­jec­tive sex­u­al arousal or excite­ment. Sex­u­al func­tion involves mov­ing through the dif­fer­ent stages of sex­u­al response with­out dif­fi­cul­ty. So going through sex­u­al desire, sex­u­al arousal and orgasm. Not sur­pris­ing­ly, sex­u­al func­tion is an impor­tant aspect of qual­i­ty of life. And stud­ies have shown that sex­u­al func­tion is pos­i­tive­ly cor­re­lat­ed with men­tal health, with phys­i­cal health, with sex­u­al and rela­tion­ship sat­is­fac­tion, as well as over­all happiness.

Sonia Milani :

The­o­ret­i­cal mod­els sit­u­ate atten­tion with­in sex­u­al inter­ac­tions as a key com­po­nent of sex­u­al response. This is a dia­gram of the emo­tion moti­va­tion­al mod­el of sex­u­al response. And as you can see, emo­tion acts ear­ly on and it’s involved in both the acti­va­tion and main­te­nance of sex­u­al response. This mod­el pre­dicts that focus­ing atten­tion towards sex­u­al cues. So for exam­ple, focus­ing atten­tion on an attrac­tive part­ner or sex­u­al stim­uli, this facil­i­tates and increas­es sex­u­al response, where­as dis­trac­tions that divert atten­tion away from such sex­u­al cues, this inhibits sex­u­al response and decreas­es that.

Sonia Milani :

Over the last 15 years, sex researchers have used eye track­ing method­ol­o­gy to exam­ine visu­al atten­tion pat­terns giv­en that visu­al atten­tion is a cen­tral com­po­nent of most sex­u­al expe­ri­ences. We see, we like, we get aroused. Specif­i­cal­ly, eye track­ing has been used to assess dif­fer­ences in the atten­tion­al pro­cess­ing of sex­u­al and non-sex­u­al cues. So real­ly show­ing the salience of sex­u­al cues. Stud­ies have looked at gen­dered pat­terns of visu­al atten­tion. We’ve exam­ined atten­tion as an index of sex­u­al inter­est and attrac­tion. And more recent­ly eye track­ing has been used to inves­ti­gate atten­tion­al bias­es, under­ly­ing sex­u­al func­tion. So look­ing at dif­fer­ences in visu­al atten­tion among clin­i­cal pop­u­la­tions, expe­ri­enc­ing sex­u­al dys­func­tion and healthy con­trols. And this is just to real­ly demon­strate the util­i­ty of eye track­ing insects research. But for the pur­pos­es of this pre­sen­ta­tion, I will briefly go over find­ings from stud­ies exam­in­ing gen­der dif­fer­ences, as it is the most rel­e­vant for the cur­rent study.

Sonia Milani :

For a very long time, researchers have been puz­zled by a gen­der dif­fer­ence in pat­terns of sex­u­al response observed in the lab­o­ra­to­ry. Stud­ies have con­sis­tent­ly revealed that het­ero­sex­u­al men show gen­der speci­fici­ty. And what this means is that they pro­duce a greater mag­ni­tude of phys­i­o­log­i­cal sex­u­al response to pre­ferred female sex­u­al cues. Het­ero­sex­u­al woman, on the oth­er hand, show gen­der non-spe­cif­ic pat­terns, such that they exhib­it a sim­i­lar mag­ni­tude of phys­i­o­log­i­cal sex­u­al response to both pre­ferred male and non-pre­ferred female cues. Now, giv­en that atten­tion is the­o­rized to be impor­tant for sex­u­al response. Some researchers have been inter­est­ed in test­ing whether or not visu­al atten­tion is a mech­a­nism that might explain these gen­der dif­fer­ences. So in pre­vi­ous eye track­ing stud­ies and unlike Alex, I actu­al­ly am using stim­uli and not emo­jis. So bear with me. You’re going to see some nude images here.

Sonia Milani :

When par­tic­i­pants are shown sin­gle images of sex­u­al male and female tar­gets sep­a­rate­ly, the results indi­cate that het­ero­sex­u­al men look more and look longer at their pre­ferred female mod­els. And this is a pat­tern that is con­sis­tent with their self-report­ed attrac­tion, as well as sex­u­al response pat­terns report­ed above. Het­ero­sex­u­al women dis­trib­ute their visu­al atten­tion more even­ly and look sim­i­lar­ly at pre­ferred male and non-pre­ferred female mod­els. Wom­en’s visu­al atten­tion pat­terns appear to be con­sis­tent again with the gen­der non-spe­cif­ic sex­u­al response pat­terns described above. Notably, these pat­terns of visu­al atten­tion have been found to be strong­ly cor­re­lat­ed with self-report­ed sex­u­al attrac­tion rat­ings of the mod­els and so mod­els that were male and female mod­els that were rat­ed as more sex­u­al­ly attrac­tive were looked at more and these effects were much stronger in men.

Sonia Milani :

And although eye track­ing has shed impor­tant light on our under­stand­ing of visu­al atten­tion pat­terns and sex research, this method is not with­out lim­i­ta­tions, some of which Alex has already described. But spe­cif­ic lim­i­ta­tions for sex research include a lack of eco­log­i­cal valid­i­ty. Giv­en that we are study­ing some­thing that is super per­son­al and pri­vate, peo­ple typ­i­cal­ly view sex­u­al stim­uli in pri­vate. And so doing so in a lab­o­ra­to­ry set­ting could poten­tial­ly be uncom­fort­able and unnat­ur­al for peo­ple. And this could influ­ence results. As well, the self selec­tion of par­tic­i­pants who vol­un­teer for lab­o­ra­to­ry based sex­u­al research may impact the gen­er­al­iz­abil­i­ty giv­en that not every­one will vol­un­teer to come to do a in lab­o­ra­to­ry based sex­u­al research study.

Sonia Milani :

So to over­come these lim­i­ta­tions of lab based sex­u­al­i­ty research using eye track­ing, we set out to start the val­i­da­tion process of Mou­se­View for sex research and con­duct­ed the cur­rent study. So the goals of the study were to exam­ine whether Mou­se­View would reveal the gen­der pat­terns and the speci­fici­ty of arousal that has been found using oth­er exper­i­men­tal meth­ods. And we also want­ed to find out whether Mou­se­View­ing of sex­u­al images would be asso­ci­at­ed with self-report­ed sex­u­al arousal rat­ings. So do peo­ple look longer at what they like?

Sonia Milani :

In terms of hypoth­e­sis, for our first research ques­tion, we pre­dict­ed that Mou­se­View will reveal gen­der speci­fici­ty for Mou­se­View­ing and sex­u­al arousal, mean­ing that men will show gen­der spe­cif­ic pat­terns and women will show gen­der non-spe­cif­ic pat­terns. And for the asso­ci­a­tions between Mou­se­View­ing and sex­u­al arousal, we pre­dict­ed that Mou­se­View­ing will be asso­ci­at­ed with sub­jec­tive sex­u­al arousal ratings.

Sonia Milani :

In terms of meth­ods, we recruit­ed a total of 226 under­grad­u­ate stu­dents through the Uni­ver­si­ty of British Colum­bia human sub­ject pool. This includ­ed 166 women, 58 men, and one non-bina­ry indi­vid­ual. Aver­age age of our group was 20.5 years old and we had a diverse sam­ple in terms of eth­nic­i­ty. Using a direct link to the online exper­i­ment, par­tic­i­pants first com­plet­ed a sex­u­al arousal rat­ing task. They were pro­vid­ed with clear images of each male and female mod­el, and they were asked to report how sex­u­al­ly aroused the image makes them feel. And this was done on a scale of 0 to 10. After the sex­u­al arousal writ­ing task par­tic­i­pants com­plet­ed the Mou­se­View­ing task. We used Goril­la as the exper­i­men­tal plat­form. In each tri­al, we pre­sent­ed par­tic­i­pants with two images, one sex­u­al image of either the male or female mod­el that was paired with one neu­tral image depict­ing a ran­dom object. Par­tic­i­pants use their mouse to move aper­ture, which is the clear cir­cle to view the images.

Sonia Milani :

And here is a quick demo that I hope works. So each tri­al start­ed with a cen­tral fix­a­tion cross. Once par­tic­i­pants click that they got to view the two images as they wish. And each tri­al last­ed eight seconds.

Sonia Milani :

So to exam­ine hypoth­e­sis one, we looked at the gen­der speci­fici­ty of sex­u­al arousal, and we found that men as indi­cat­ed by the orange lines and these graphs, men showed greater speci­fici­ty in their Mou­se­View­ing of the images. And so for Mou­se­View­ing, that’s the graph on the left and then for sub­jec­tive sex­u­al arousal, that’s the graph on the right. So we see that men­tal, a very pro­nounced pref­er­ence for the female mod­el com­pared to the male mod­el. And this is true for both the Mou­se­View, as well as a sub­ject of sex­u­al arousal rat­ings. And so this is oth­er­wise known as gen­der spe­cif­ic response pat­terns. Het­ero­sex­u­al women, as indi­cat­ed by the blue lines in the graph show a very sub­tle pref­er­ence for the male mod­el. And so we can see gen­der non-spe­cif­ic pat­terns in wom­en’s arousal rat­ings, as well as their MouseViewing.

Sonia Milani :

And then for hypoth­e­sis two, look­ing at the asso­ci­a­tions between Mou­se­View­ing and self-report­ed sex­u­al arousal rat­ings. When exam­in­ing the full sam­ple, we see a robust asso­ci­a­tion between sub­jec­tive sex­u­al arousal, which is found on the X axis and Mou­se­View­ing, which is found on the Y axis for both the female and the male mod­el. So the female mod­el graph is on the left male mod­el is on the right. So across every­one in our sam­ple, peo­ple look more at the stim­uli they rate as more arous­ing. And these strong asso­ci­a­tions are observed when we look at each gen­der sep­a­rate­ly. So for men in our sam­ple, we see the same pos­i­tive cor­re­la­tions for both male and female mod­els. And as you can see on the graph on the right for men view­ing and rat­ing male mod­els, most data appear on the low­er end of the scale. So low sex­u­al arousal rat­ing and less Mou­se­View­ing. And this is expect­ed giv­en our most­ly het­ero­sex­u­al iden­ti­fy­ing sample.

Sonia Milani :

And sim­i­lar­ly for women, we saw pos­i­tive cor­re­la­tions for both male and female mod­els. And as you can see, the mag­ni­tude of the cor­re­la­tions is slight­ly low­er than mens. And this pat­tern again is con­sis­tent with the gen­dered pat­terns that are observed using oth­er meth­ods where the observed effects are much stronger among men than women.

Sonia Milani :

And so what does this all mean? Our data sug­gests that Mou­se­View­ing is relat­ed to sex­u­al arousal. Our sup­port­ed hypothe­ses are the repli­cat­ed pre­vi­ous find­ings from stud­ies using oth­er method­olo­gies, such as eye track­ing and phys­i­o­log­i­cal mea­sures. In terms of impli­ca­tions, online exper­i­men­tal meth­ods applied to the study of sex, and obvi­ous­ly our research more broad­ly, offer an afford­able and con­ve­nient alter­na­tive to in lab exper­i­ments, they increase our abil­i­ty to recruit larg­er and more diverse sam­ples. And this is par­tic­u­lar­ly impor­tant in sex research because we real­ly want to tap into pop­u­la­tions with dif­fer­ent sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tions and gen­der diverse pop­u­la­tions as well. Addi­tion­al ben­e­fits include lev­els of real­ism, it’ll hope­ful­ly be more com­fort­able and real­is­tic for par­tic­i­pants be view­ing sex­u­al stim­uli in the com­fort of their own home rather than in a lab­o­ra­to­ry setting.

Sonia Milani :

And our next steps for this line of research is to more com­pre­hen­sive­ly val­i­date Mou­se­View for sex research and to do so, we will com­pare atten­tion­al pro­cess­ing of sex­u­al ver­sus non-sex­u­al cues to repli­cate eye track­ing find­ings that demon­strate the salience of sex­u­al stim­uli. And we will also repli­cate forced atten­tion par­a­digms that have been used for pre­ferred and non-pre­ferred sex­u­al cues where par­tic­i­pants are pre­sent­ed with a male and female mod­el simul­ta­ne­ous­ly. We also plan to con­duct an in lab­o­ra­to­ry eye track­ing, COVID per­mit­ting, to look at Mou­se­View and eye track­ing con­ver­gence, and we are going to be doing this with­in sam­ples. So the same par­tic­i­pants that par­tic­i­pate in Mou­se­View will abe invit­ed to par­tic­i­pate in an in lab eye track­ing as well. And we also want­ed to exam­ine dif­fer­ent masks in Mou­se­View. So we want to use the blurred over­lays that I showed ear­li­er in the demo, but we also want to exam­ine what the data might look like if we were to flash the images clear­ly for one sec­ond to par­tic­i­pants before the blurred over­lay, just to see if one iter­a­tion of Mou­se­View is more close­ly matched with eye track­ing data.

Sonia Milani :

Thank you for lis­ten­ing. I’m open to some questions.

 

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Val­i­dat­ing MouseView.js for sex research