Everyone knows that sex sells and that nude or scantily clad bodies are more attractive than fully clothed ones. From sculptures of ancient Roman gods to modern Wonderbra ads, we like to see skin. And now it’s science that our brains have a much easier time looking at naked bodies than bodies with clothes on.
Researchers at the University of Tampere and the Aalto University, Finland, have now shown that the perception of nude bodies is boosted at an early stage of visual processing.
In the study, participants were shown pictures of men and women in which the models wore either normal everyday clothes or swimsuits, or were nude. At the same time, visual brain responses were recorded from the participants’ electrical brain activity. This method allows researchers to investigate the early stages of visual information processing.
The results showed that, in less than 0.2 seconds, the brain processes pictures of nude bodies more efficiently than pictures of clothed bodies. In fact, the less clothing the models in the pictures were wearing, the more enhanced was the information processing: the brain responses were the strongest when the participants looked at pictures of nude bodies, the second strongest to bodies in swimsuits, and the weakest to fully clothed bodies. Male participants’ brain responses were stronger to nude female than to nude male bodies, whereas the female participants’ brain responses were not affected by the sex of the bodies.
The results show that the brain boosts the processing of sexually arousing signals. In addition to the brain responses, the participants’ self-evaluations and measurements reflecting the activation of the autonomic nervous system were in line with expectations, showing that nude pictures were more arousing than the other types of pictures. Such fast processing of sexual signals may play a role in reproduction, and it ensures efficient perception of potential mating partners in the environment.
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