Response inhibition devalues sexual stimuli and alters their capacity to elicit subjective arousal and behavioural approach or avoidance
Stimuli that are ignored or from which a motor response is withheld receive more negative affective ratings than the targets of attention or response, and are less likely to elicit behavioural approach. Inhibition is the mechanism thought to trigger such effects; however, it remains unclear whether the impact of response inhibition is due to changes in stimulus value, or to other consequences of motor suppression. Resolving this uncertainty is important because representations of stimulus value are thought to provide a universal currency on which a much wider array of thought and behaviour is based than that impacted by other more restricted effects of motor-suppression. My thesis research addresses this issue directly in Experiment 1 using sexual stimuli in a paradigm that combines a response inhibition task with a new key-pressing task that measures both behavioural approach and avoidance. Evidence that prior response inhibition leads to increases in motivation to escape views of unappealing images suggests that response inhibition alters stimulus value, and does not produce a lingering global brake on motor responses that would reduce all behavioural expression. Following from this, Experiments 2 and 3 explore the extent to which the representations of value altered by response inhibition drive fundamental forms of biologically-significant responses. The results demonstrated that prior response inhibition reduces the capacity of both sexually-explicit images (Exp. 2) and video clips (Exp. 3) to elicit feelings of sexual arousal. These findings demonstrate that the type of stimulus- value representations altered by response inhibition are likely to support a wide range of thoughts, feelings, and behaviour, including those as biologically-significant as sexual response.