PhD Oral Exam - Lucia Farisello, Psychology
When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.
Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.
Traditional models of sexual arousal and desire in humans have focused on either physiological measures (Kaplan, 1974; Masters & Johnson), or on self-report (ex.Derogatis & Melisaratos, 1979). However, some have also proposed that cognitive processes play a key role in connecting both arousal and desire. It is unknown if a stimulus is deemed sexually salient at a low processing level (i.e., at the level of sensation), or if more higher-level cognitive processing (i.e., perception, recognition) is required to generate a sexual response to the stimuli, or a combination of both. In addition, are there gender differences to this perception of sexual stimuli. Therefore, the aim of this thesis was to use cognitive measures that target low level and high level processing tasks to examine whether eye-tracking methodology could reveal patterns that constitute a more objective assessment of sexual arousal and desire. The results indicate that low level tasks, which used timed response tasks with visual sexual stimuli, created a delay effect predominantly in men, and to a lesser extent in women. When women were subjectively aroused (as assessed using the SADI; Toledano & Pfaus, 2006) the observed level of cognitive delay increased (i.e., latency to respond to stimuli). However, low level processing does not produce a sexually induced cognitive delay effect in women. This finding suggests a reflexive response in women that is not sufficient to impose a cognitive delay. In contrast, using high level processing tasks that exposed participants to viewing sexual stimuli for longer durations (specifically, viewing naked versus clothed images, viewing high versus low arousal images, and viewing an erotic movie) lead to gender distinct patterns of eye movements concordant with reported levels of subjective arousal. Interestingly, women shown specific eye movement patterns when viewing images that they rate as highly arousing (in comparison to low arousing images). Together, these data suggest that women may require longer exposure to sexual stimuli in order to engage and sustain desire, which can then produce concordant results with self-reported arousal.