Assessment of sexual interest using a choice reaction time task and priming: A feasibility study


Correspondence should be addressed to Dr Pekka Santtila, Department of Psychology, Åbo Akademi University, Turku 20500, Finland (e-mail:


Purpose. We investigated the feasibility of assessing sexual interest in hetero- and homosexual men using two information-processing methods, namely a choice reaction time task and priming. The participants were expected to have longer reaction times for sexually explicit when compared with non-explicit pictures due to sexual content-induced delay. In addition, the reaction times of the heterosexual (N=15) and homosexual (N=11) men for pictures corresponding with their sexual interest were compared to pictures not corresponding with their sexual interest. Heterosexual men were expected to have longer reaction times during the presentation of sexually explicit female as opposed to male pictures, whereas homosexual men were expected to have the opposite pattern.

Method. The participants were presented either sexually explicit or non-explicit male and female target pictures (and primes that preceded the targets in random combinations) while simultaneously performing a choice reaction time task in three phases each containing a total of 160 prime–target pairs.

Results. Both expectations were confirmed in phase 1 of the study. In phase 2, the means differed in the expected way, but the effects were not significant. In phase 3, the expected effect was moderated by a complex priming effect.

Conclusions. The results suggest that the choice reaction time task is a promising way of measuring sexual interest but that questions of habituation should be given more attention in future studies.