Tuesday, November 30, 2021

The perception of lower mate availability was associated with decreased life satisfaction, but an oversupply of potential mates also made some uncomfortable (choice overload, especially of those who are good catches)

The Influence of Sex Ratio and Perception of Mate Availability on Psychological Health. Rosenbach, Naomi. Hofstra University, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2022. 28774896. Aug 2021. https://www.proquest.com/openview/0e611481cbc3dbe91211f359da573e0c/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=18750&diss=y

Abstract: Pair bonding, or long-term adult romantic relationship, was advantageous in ensuring offspring survival and adult protection in the evolutionary environment, thus humans have evolved with strong mating and pair bonding motivations (Belsky, 1999; Fraley, Brumbaugh & Marks, 2005; Fraley & Shaver, 2000). Because successes and failures in meeting adaptive goals is correlated with emotional and psychological health (Nesse, 2016; Plutchik, 2003), decreased or thwarted mating opportunity should theoretically impact wellbeing. Sex ratio refers to the number of males relative to females in a given population and significantly influences mating opportunity. When sex ratio is skewed, the oversupplied sex experiences a dearth in mating opportunity (Guttengang & Secord, 1983). The minimal research that has been conducted in this area suggests that population sex ratio and mating opportunity influence wellbeing (Tucker & Mitchel-Kernan, 1989) yet more research is necessary to gain a better understanding of the psychological impact of sex ratio.

This study examined whether population specific sex ratio and perceived mate availability influenced a variety of mental health outcomes and dating strategies in the young adult, single, population. The main sample consisted of 647 participants (332 male and 315 female) who responded to an online survey with items measuring depression, anxiety, positive and negative affect, life satisfaction, self-esteem and mating flexibility. Mate value, religious and cultural beliefs were assessed as moderating variables. Additionally, some mating and commitment strategies were explored. The hypotheses that young adults who live in an area with less mate availability or who simply perceive there to be an undersupply of available mates would have more negative psychological outcomes were partially supported. Perceived sex ratio and actual sex ratio differentially impacted males and females. For males, perception of lower mate availability was associated with decreased life satisfaction, decreased positive affect, and decreased choosiness in mating criteria. For females, an actual oversupply of females was associated with decreased life satisfaction. Mate value was found to moderate the relationship between perceived sex ratio and anxiety, depression, and negative affect for both males and females. For those low in mate value, decreased opposite sex availability was associated with an increase in anxiety, depression, and negative affect. This pattern reversed for those high in mate value, where perceived increased opposite sex availability was associated with increased depression, anxiety, and negative affect. This latter, unexpected finding suggests that there may be psychological costs for those both high and low in mate value when there is an imbalance in sex ratio. Additionally, perceived sex ratio impacted some dating commitment strategies. For example, those who perceived there to be a dearth of opposite sex availability reported that they would be more “willing to settle for a less than ideal mate out of desperation”. These findings suggest that skewed sex ratio not only impacts sociological constructs such as mating strategies and behaviors but can also impact psychological constructs and individual wellbeing. These findings can help those in the clinical and counseling field better understand how sex ratio and mate availability influence wellbeing. Given that mate acquisition is a significant life goal for young adults, clinicians working with that population should assess for beliefs surrounding mating opportunity.

Overall people share the widespread belief that women are less entitled to sexually pleasurable experiences than men in both casual and relationship contexts

The Role of Gendered Entitlement in Understanding Inequality in the Bedroom. Verena Klein, Terri D. Conley. Social Psychological and Personality Science, November 29, 2021. https://doi.org/10.1177/19485506211053564

Abstract: Five studies (using U.S. samples) examined whether men’s higher entitlement contributes to a sexual pleasure gap that disadvantages women. Participants indicated that men receive more sexual pleasure from their partners, whereas women provide more pleasure (Study 1a). Participants believed that men have more of a right to experience orgasm in both hook-up and relationship encounters and attributed higher negative affect to the male target than to the female target when the target did not experience an orgasm in a sexual scenario (Study 1b). In concert with the idea that pleasure is a privilege that men are perceived as being more entitled to, participants preferred men’s orgasm when forced to choose between the male and the female partner in an orgasm allocation task (Study 1c) and in an experiment (Study 2). Study 3 examined why people believe that men are more entitled to pleasure than women. Men’s higher sense of entitlement as an obstacle to gender equality in sexuality is discussed.

Keywords: entitlement, gender inequality, sexuality, gender differences, deservingness, fairness


Overall people share the widespread belief that women are less entitled to sexually pleasurable experiences than men in both casual and relationship contexts.

Childhood socioeconomic status positively related to dispositional greed (luxury hypothesis), instead of negatively related (scarcity hypothesis); relationship was found for only-children, not for children with siblings

Further tests of the scarcity and luxury hypotheses in dispositional greed: Evidence from two large-scale Dutch and American samples. Karlijn Hoyer, Marcel Zeelenberg & Seger M. Breugelmans. Current Psychology, Nov 25 2021. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12144-021-02467-z

Abstract: A recent, large-scale study among Chinese adolescents found that childhood socioeconomic status (CSES) was positively related to dispositional greed (i.e., the “luxury hypothesis”), instead of negatively related (i.e., the “scarcity hypothesis”; Liu et al., 2019c). This relationship was found for only-children, not for children with siblings. The generalizability of these findings may be limited, due to China’s one-child policy and socioeconomic policies which may have led to fewer differences in wealth. We replicated this research in two other cultural contexts that represent markedly different socioeconomic policies in order to test its generalizability: the Netherlands (Study 1, N = 2367, 51.3% female, Mage = 54.06, SD = 17.90), and the USA (Study 2, N = 999, 50.1% female, Mage = 33.44, SD = 12.28). Hierarchical multiple regressions were conducted to test the association between CSES and greed. We mostly replicated the findings by Liu et al. (2019c): CSES was positively related to greed in both studies (“luxury hypothesis”) and there was a moderating effect of siblings in Study 1, but not in Study 2. Implications for theories on greed as well as future research on the association between CSES and greed are discussed.

General Discussion

The aim of our research was to examine the relationship between the economic circumstances at childhood (i.e., growing up poor or wealthy) and adult dispositional greed. In a large study with Chines adolescents Liu et al. (2019c) found support for the Luxury hypothesis, the idea that growing up wealthy would be related to higher levels of dispositional greed in adults (based on initial findings of Poluektova et al., 2015, and Lea et al., 1995). Liu et al. did not find support for the competing Scarcity hypothesis, the idea that growing up poor would be related to higher levels of dispositional greed (based on initial findings by Krekels, 2015, and Chen, 2018). Liu et al. (Liu et al., 2019c, p. 38) stated that “It would be beneficial to test our model in other countries in which the number of children per family is generally more diversified.” Thus, we replicated the study in a large-scale, representative Dutch sample (i.e., the LISS panel). We further replicated the study in a large-scale U.S. American sample, via Prolific. Compared to the Chinese adolescent sample used by Liu et al. (2019c), both our samples had a larger variety in the number of siblings that people have and came from countries that have a longer history of capitalism, likely resulting in more pronounced differences in wealth experienced when growing up.

Replicating Liu et al. (2019c), we found support for the luxury hypothesis in both of our samples. That is, dispositional greed was positively associated with childhood socioeconomic status, implying that the more people reported growing up wealthy, the greedier they were as adults.

We found a moderating role of number of siblings on the relationship between CSES and greed in our Dutch sample in Study 1, replicating the second finding of Liu et al. (2019c), but we did not find this in the American sample of Study 2. More specifically, Study 1 found that the positive relationship between greed and CSES was stronger for children with few siblings than for children with more siblings. This suggests that when children grow up with a lot of resources and also do not need to share these with their siblings, they might become greedier later in life. This is in line with the resource dilution model, which postulates that the more children there are in a family, the more resources are divided among offspring (Blake, 1981). However, our data also heed caution to interpreting the relation between greed and family size: The relationship disappeared when analyzing only the younger generation, but the interaction effect was present for the older generation. This disappearance might be driven by the decrease in family size over the past decades in (Western) European societies. In the American sample in Study 2, the correlation between age and number of siblings was non-significant, and we also did not find a relation between greed and family size in the results of the regression analysis. This difference in findings concerning the role of family size in our Dutch and American samples might be related to a variety of factors. The USA and the Netherlands represent markedly different political systems and policies, and there are personality differences between both countries (Eigenhuis et al., 2015). We will not speculate here about what specifically might be causing the differences found in our studies, but leave it up to future research to delve more specifically into the role of the family make-up when growing up in affecting adult greed. Despite this precaution, we do believe that these results together shed initial light on the origins of greed and on the environmental factors that may contribute to the psychological development of greed.

Contrary to Liu et al. (2019c), our results from Study 1 were not robust to controlling for both gender age (but they were in Study 2). The relationship between greed and age does not seem to be a straightforward one. On the one hand, we did find greed to be negatively correlated with age in both studies, which is consistent with earlier studies on adults cited earlier. On the other hand, Liu et al. found a positive relationship between greed and age, r(3200) = .14, p < .001. Interestingly, this is consistent with earlier findings of Seuntjens et al. (2016), who also had adolescent participants, and found that age and dispositional greed correlated positively, r(3899) = .04, p < .05 These findings fit with a suggestion by Liu et al. (2019c) about an inverted U-shape relationship between greed and age, but our data cannot provide conclusive evidence for such a relationship. Ideally, a future, longitudinal study should investigate the underlying mechanism of differences in greed over the years.

Limitations and Future Research

The replication of the luxury hypothesis suggests two further questions for research into how childhood experiences are related to adult greed. First is the relationship between greed of parents and their children. Greedy parents might create an environment where greed is the norm. In addition, they might deliberately decide to have fewer children (so that they do not have to share their resources), leaving their children with fewer siblings. Second is the possibility for identification and intervention. Given that dispositional greed is likely to develop at an early age and is associated with various harmful and undesirable outcomes later in life (Liu et al., 2019a; Seuntjens et al., 201620152019; Zeelenberg et al., 2020), Liu et al. (2019b) made a case for a mindful parenting intervention to help adolescents to develop more positive core self-evaluations and reduce adolescent greed. They found that embracing mindful parenting enriches adolescents’ self-evaluations, which prevent them from becoming greedy.

In this article, we closely replicated Liu et al. (2019c) and hence, measured CSES with the commonly used scale of Griskevicius et al. (2011). Notably, in several studies subjective assessments of (C)SES were more predictive of decision-making, psychological functioning and health-related factors than more objective indicators (see for example, Adler et al., 2000; Singh-Manoux et al., 2005; Thompson et al., 2020), and empirical evidence has suggested that retrospective reports are accurate (see for example, Brewin et al., 1993; Hardt & Rutter, 2004). Nevertheless, a subjective retrospective scale, such as CSES, does not necessarily reflect the “objective” SES at time of childhood (e.g., the memories of childhood could be prone to change). Thus, it could be informative to follow Krekels (2015) and re-examine the link between greed and CSES using a more objective operationalization of CSES, such as, parental occupation, parental education, and parental income during childhood. Longitudinal studies could be used to investigate the development of the greedy disposition, and to overcome the limitations of retrospective measurements.

Despite the consistent results regarding the subjective CSES measure and dispositional greed that were found in this research and in Liu et al. (2019c), the relation between current SES and dispositional greed is less clear. CSES is often related to SES: Children from low-SES backgrounds are more likely to become low-SES adults, and vice versa (see for example, Chen & Miller, 2012; Brady & Matthews, 2002). Both Krekels (2015) and Seuntjens et al. (2015) found that dispositional greed was unrelated to current income. In the Study 2, we found a correlation between current SES and dispositional greed, but SES had no additional effect when Childhood-SES, number of siblings and their interaction were accounted for. Clearly, more research is needed here. 

Monday, November 29, 2021

Flynn Effect... Louisville Twin Study (longitudinal data collected continuously from 1957 to 1999): Overall gains equaled approximately three IQ points per decade

Genetically informed, multilevel analysis of the Flynn Effect across four decades and three WISC versions. Evan J. Giangrande, Christopher R. Beam, Deborah Finkel, Deborah W. Davis, Eric Turkheimer. Child Development, November 11 2021. https://doi.org/10.1111/cdev.13675

Abstract: This study investigated the systematic rise in cognitive ability scores over generations, known as the Flynn Effect, across middle childhood and early adolescence (7–15 years; 291 monozygotic pairs, 298 dizygotic pairs; 89% White). Leveraging the unique structure of the Louisville Twin Study (longitudinal data collected continuously from 1957 to 1999 using the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children [WISC], WISC–R, and WISC–III ed.), multilevel analyses revealed between-subjects Flynn Effects—as both decrease in mean scores upon test re-standardization and increase in mean scores across cohorts—as well as within-child Flynn Effects on cognitive growth across age. Overall gains equaled approximately three IQ points per decade. Novel genetically informed analyses suggested that individual sensitivity to the Flynn Effect was moderated by an interplay of genetic and environmental factors.

Short-term mating was unrelated or even negatively related to reproductive success; long-term mating predicted a greater number of children and children's children

Phenotypic Signals of Sexual Selection and Fast Life History Dynamics for the Long-Term but Not Short-Term Mating. Janko Međedović. Evolutionary Psychology, November 29, 2021. https://doi.org/10.1177/14747049211057158

Abstract: Mating patterns are crucial for understanding selection regimes in current populations and highly implicative for sexual selection and life history theory. However, empirical data on the relations between mating and reproductive outcomes in contemporary humans are lacking. In the present research we examined the sexual selection on mating (with an emphasis on Bateman's third parameter – the association between mating and reproductive success) and life history dynamics of mating by examining the relations between mating patterns and a comprehensive set of variables which determine human reproductive ecology. We conducted two studies (Study 1: N = 398, Study 2: N = 996, the sample was representative for participants’ sex, age, region, and settlement size). The findings from these studies were mutually congruent and complementary. In general, the data suggested that short-term mating was unrelated or even negatively related to reproductive success. Conversely, long-term mating was positively associated with reproductive success (number of children in Study 1; number of children and grandchildren in Study 2) and there were indices that the beneficial role of long-term mating is more pronounced in males, which is in accordance with Bateman's third principle. Observed age of first reproduction mediated the link between long-term mating and number of children but only in male participants (Study 2). There were no clear indications of the position of the mating patterns in human life history trajectories; however, the obtained data suggested that long-term mating has some characteristics of fast life history dynamics. Findings are implicative for sexual selection and life history theory in humans.

Keywords: short-term mating, long-term mating, fitness, reproductive ecology, sexual selection, life history theory

Variation in mating behavior is certainly one of the crucial determinants of variance in fitness itself. Interestingly, the empirical data on the associations between mating and reproduction as a prerequisite for the analysis of selection regimes acting on mating, including sexual selection, are surprisingly lacking, especially in industrial and postindustrial human populations. This topic is of high importance, not only from the viewpoint of sexual selection, but life history theory in humans as well, together with the potential demographic implications. In order to explore the role of mating in reproductive ecology we conducted two studies with samples which differ in important reproductive characteristics (including the mean age of participants in two samples) and assessing different outcomes related to the environment and reproductive events. Despite the large differences between the samples the results were relatively congruent: 1) long-term mating turned out to be beneficial to fitness, while in contrast, short-term mating was either non-associated or even negatively associated to fitness; 2) long-term mating showed enhanced adaptive benefits for males compared to females; 3) age of first reproduction was the crucial mediating variable in the link between long-term mating and fitness in males; 4) short and long-term mating did not show unambiguous life history dynamics in the context of the fast/slow continuum; however, the obtained findings suggested that long-term mating had more consistent associations with the fast life history dynamics. The data show promising potential in understanding the reproductive ecology of mating in post-industrial humans as well as patterns of sexual selection in contemporary human populations.

Sexual Selection on Mating

Present findings revealed crucial differences in short and long-term mating regarding their relations with fitness: long-term mating showed more positive associations with fitness compared to short-term mating, where no relations or even negative relations with fitness were observed. In Study 1, long-term mating was positively associated with reproductive success and the total desired number of children; it was positively associated both with the number of children and grandchildren in Study 2. In both studies, longer partner relationships were related to an earlier age of first reproduction which turned out to be the crucial mediator between long-term mating and fitness for male participants. The findings that individuals with higher time spent in romantic relationships have higher fitness as well are in accordance not only with the previous findings obtained in post-industrial, WEIRD population (Međedović, 2021) but with the data obtained in rural, natural fertility population - Pimbwe tribe of West Tanzania (Borgerhoff Mulder & Ross, 2019). In contrast, short-term mating was related to delaying reproduction in Study 1 and a lower number of children in Study 2.

We examined Bateman's three coefficients (Arnold & Duvall, 1994Bateman, 1948) in order to estimate the presence of sexual selection: variance in mating, reproduction, and the association between mating and reproduction. Of course, we should be cautious in the interpretation of variance in mating and fertility: reliable estimations of these parameters should involve representative samples. Our samples were not representative of the Serbian population, although the sample examined in Study 2 had several characteristics of representativeness. Having in mind the problems of results generalizability, it is interesting to mention that all of the effects detected were in congruence with the sexual selection theory: the variation in mating (observed in Study 1 and 2), reproductive success (Study 2) and the finding of higher associations between mating and reproduction in males compared to females (Study 1 and 2). These findings are in accordance with several previous empirical studies (Borgerhoff Mulder & Ross, 2019Brown et al., 2009Courtiol et al., 2012Jokela et al., 2010), although none one of these studies were conducted in industrial and post-industrial human populations. This is particularly interesting since theory and previous data show that sexual selection is weaker in monogamous, compared to polygamous societies (Moorad et al., 2011). Hence, although probably with lower intensity, sexual selection still operates in contemporary humans; more precisely, selection primarily acts to enhance male effort in long-term mating.

Can Mating Patterns Indicate Life History Trajectories?

Apart from sexual selection, mating patterns could be a part of human life history dynamics: correlated traits and events which are associated with fitness. Due to differences in ecological conditions and individual characteristics, humans (like other species as well) may have different pathways of fitness maximization, which are often labeled as fast and slow (Del Giudice et al., 2015). However, there are two opposite hypotheses of the role that mating patterns play in life history dynamics: one assumes that short-term mating represents a part of fast life history trajectory (Belsky et al., 1991Chisholm, 1999), while the other posits the same role for long-term mating (Gangestad & Simpson, 2000). Both hypotheses have acquired some empirical support but it seems that there are more findings which corroborate the former one (Chua et al., 2016Copping & Campbell, 2015Kogan et al., 2015Lukaszewski, 2015Schmitt, 2005). The present data did not provide findings which may unambiguously support either of these hypotheses. However, the present data was more in line with strategic pluralism theory (Gangestad & Simpson, 2000). Short term mating showed the signatures of both fast and slow life history while long-term mating exhibited more consistent fast life history dynamics. Indeed, the present data is in the accordance with recent predictions that long-term mating may indicate faster life history dynamics (Sear, 2020): having longer romantic relationships can facilitate reproductive success by higher frequency of sexual intercourse in steady relationships (Twenge et al., 2017) or avoiding the cost of switching partners on reproductive fitness (Brown et al., 2009).

Why were there no clearer associations between mating and life history? Well, the view of life history as a singular slow-fast dimension may be an oversimplifying framework for the analysis of human life histories. Recently, several critiques of the slow-fast life history continuum's existence have been published (Royauté et al., 2018Stearns & Rodrigues, 2020Zietsch & Sidari, 2020). Furthermore, empirical data showed that the latent space of life history indicators probably cannot be reduced to a single slow-fast dimension, i.e. it is much more complex and consists of several largely unrelated factors (Međedović, 2020a2020bRichardson et al., 2021). The relations between the parameters of reproductive ecology and childhood environment obtained in the present study (i.e. low magnitude correlations with a high number of non-significant associations) are in contrast to the existence of a singular slow-fast continuum as well. Hence, it is questionable if this simple slow-fast life history theoretical framework is useful for understanding of the mating patterns’ role in life history dynamics. This is why it has been suggested that researchers should invest more effort in linking behavioral traits (like mating patterns) with the specific life history tradeoffs than trying to incorporate them in a rigid and oversimplifying fast-slow continuum (Sear, 2020).

Limitations and Future Directions

There are several important limitations of the present research. As we have already mentioned, the samples of participants the data were collected on were not representative, which limits the generalization of the data (although, the Study 2 was conducted on a large sample which was representative in several demographic parameters). The variation of the reproductive success in Study 1 was diminished which represents a potential obstacle to the generalization of the findings. Additional socio-demographic measures would be useful in the context of present topic - especially the estimate of participants’ income. Participants’ education levels were above the average in the present research; we can reasonably assume that the same holds for their income as well because education and economic status are positively correlated. Hence, the research findings cannot easily generalize to the participants with low education and socioeconomic status. The conducted studies were cross-sectional, which prevents causal inferences from the data; this is a limitation of previous studies in this topic as well. Despite the fact that early fertility is positively associated with completed fertility we should take the measure of reproductive success from Study 1 with caution. We did not use objective information about the participants’ childhood environment but the subjective estimations of ecological characteristics: future research may analyze objective indicators of environment like mortality rates, characteristics of the healthcare system or childhood environmental instability. Furthermore, parental fitness was not controlled for in the present research; future studies should not only control for parental reproductive success but examine the parental influence on mating in offspring, since there is a parent-offspring conflict regarding the mate choice (Buunk et al., 2008).

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Incorporating a 12-step philosophy (and inserting religiosity without client’s consent) into therapy can make sexual compulsivity worse because of increasing shame and colluding with a power imbalance between therapist & client

The religious disguise in “sex addiction” therapy. Silva Neves. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, Nov 26 2021. https://doi.org/10.1080/14681994.2021.2008344

Abstract: In this essay I will discuss the conceptualisation of “sex addiction” programmes and treatments in relation to its religious positions. Both the official book of Sex Addicts Anonymous and “sex addiction” experts proclaim to offer a non-religious solution suitable for all people suffering from “sexual addiction” however a brief overview of some current texts reveals strong religiosity. In popular discourse, the USA is often perceived as more religious than the UK because of its puritan past. Whilst the UK is perceived to be more “sex positive,” I will demonstrate that religiosity amongst “sex addiction” experts in the UK is also strong, and perhaps more covert. This essay covers the problematic use of the integration of 12-step programmes in therapeutic treatments for sexual compulsivity. I will challenge the conceptualisation of “sex addiction,” primarily how experts promote support groups such as SAA and SLAA. The philosophy of these support groups is in direct contradiction with the knowledge of sexology and some basic psychotherapy principles. I argue that incorporating a 12-step philosophy (and inserting religiosity without client’s consent) into therapy can make sexual compulsivity worse because of increasing shame and colluding with a power imbalance between therapist and client. I propose that it is not possible to be both “sex positive” and promoting the conceptualisation of “sex addiction.”

Keywords: Compulsive sexual behaviourssexual compulsivitysex addiction12-step programmesaddictionreligiosity

Population ethical intuitions: Participants on average believed that approximately 1.5–3 times more happy people are required to outweigh a given amount of unhappy people

Population ethical intuitions. Lucius Caviola et al. Cognition, Volume 218, January 2022, 104941. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2021.104941

Abstract: Is humanity's existence worthwhile? If so, where should the human species be headed in the future? In part, the answers to these questions require us to morally evaluate the (potential) human population in terms of its size and aggregate welfare. This assessment lies at the heart of population ethics. Our investigation across nine experiments (N = 5776) aimed to answer three questions about how people aggregate welfare across individuals: (1) Do they weigh happiness and suffering symmetrically?; (2) Do they focus more on the average or total welfare of a given population?; and (3) Do they account only for currently existing lives, or also lives that could yet exist? We found that, first, participants believed that more happy than unhappy people were needed in order for the whole population to be net positive (Studies 1a-c). Second, participants had a preference both for populations with greater total welfare and populations with greater average welfare (Study 3a-d). Their focus on average welfare even led them (remarkably) to judge it preferable to add new suffering people to an already miserable world, as long as this increased average welfare. But, when prompted to reflect, participants' preference for the population with the better total welfare became stronger. Third, participants did not consider the creation of new people as morally neutral. Instead, they viewed it as good to create new happy people and as bad to create new unhappy people (Studies 2a-b). Our findings have implications for moral psychology, philosophy and global priority setting.

Keywords: HappinessSufferingMoral judgmentPopulation ethicsAxiology


[...] participants on average believed that approximately 1.5–3 times more happy people are required to outweigh a given amount of unhappy people.

In the Laterality Journal: Asymmetries of Brain, Behaviour, and Cognition... The effects of sex and handedness on masturbation laterality and other lateralized motor behaviours

The effects of sex and handedness on masturbation laterality and other lateralized motor behaviours. Paul Rodway, Volker Thoma &Astrid Schepman. Laterality, Nov 26 2021. https://doi.org/10.1080/1357650X.2021.2006211

Abstract: Masturbation is a common human behaviour. Compared to other unimanual behaviours it has unique properties, including increased sexual and emotional arousal, and privacy. Self-reported hand preference for masturbation was examined in 104 left-handed and 103 right-handed women, and 100 left-handed and 99 right-handed men. Handedness (modified Edinburgh Handedness Inventory, EHI), footedness, eyedness, and cheek kissing preferences were also measured. Seventy nine percent used their dominant hand (always/usually) for masturbation, but left-handers (71.5%) were less consistently lateralized to use their dominant hand than right-handers (86.5%). Hand preference for masturbation correlated more strongly with handedness (EHI), than with footedness, eyedness, or cheek preference. There was no difference in masturbation frequency between left- and right-handers, but men masturbated more frequently than women, and more women (75%) than men (33%) masturbated with sex aids. For kissing the preferred cheek of an emotionally close person from the viewer’s perspective, left-handers showed a left-cheek preference, and right-handers a weaker right-cheek preference. The results suggest that hemispheric asymmetries in emotion do not influence hand preference for masturbation but may promote a leftward shift in cheek kissing. In all, masturbation is lateralized in a similar way to other manual motor behaviours in left-handed and right-handed men and women.

Keywords: Vibratorhead-tiltstimulationgenitalshealth


The findings clearly addressed the hypotheses outlined in the Introduction. The hypothesis (H1) that people would strongly prefer to use their dominant hand to masturbate was confirmed in the data, with 79% of people always/usually preferring their dominant hand. There was no evidence for the lay belief that men often masturbate with their non-dominant hand because it will feel “like someone else”. The hypothesis (H3) that left-handers would be less lateralized for hand use for masturbation was also confirmed, with 86.5% of right-handers preferring their dominant hand compared to 71.5% of left-handers. This result corresponded to the findings of other studies that had found weaker lateralization of unimanual motor behaviours in left-handers (McManus et al., 2016).

The hypothesis (H2) that handedness for masturbation might be a purer measure of handedness than the EHI, due to it being less influenced by social factors, was rejected, with the EHI proving to be a stronger measure of handedness. This shows that despite the private nature of masturbation (Kirschbaum & Peterson, 2018), there was no greater tendency to use the dominant hand for masturbation compared to other motor behaviours. In addition, the hypothesis (H4) that greater specialization of the RH for sexual arousal and emotion would cause a shift towards greater use of the left hand, in both right-handers and left-handers, did not receive support. Unlike other behaviours, such as kissing and cradling, where the emotional context influences lateralized motor behaviour (Ocklenburg et al., 2018), this appeared not to be the case for masturbation. This might be because cradling, kissing, and embracing are social behaviours, whereas masturbation is primarily a private behaviour.

Finally, the hypothesis (H5) that females would show greater use of their dominant hand for masturbation than men, particularly for manual masturbation, due to a greater need for fine motor control, was not supported. Males and females preferred using their dominant hand to a similar extent (77% males, 81% females). Interestingly, however, for the use of sex aids women were found to use their dominant hand more than males. A possible reason for this difference is that when using a sex aid, males may be more likely to manipulate their genitalia with their dominant hand, and hold the sex aid in their non-dominant hand to stimulate other regions.

In addition to showing a weaker hand preference for masturbation, left-handers were also less strongly lateralized than right-handers for footedness. This replicates observational findings (Nachshon & Denno, 1986) and strengthens the view that the data accurately reflect the participants’ behaviour. For eyedness the degree of lateralization did not differ significantly between left-handers and right-handers. This might be because eyedness is not as closely related to hand preference as is footedness (Nachshon & Denno, 1986), making the relationship between eyedness and handedness less consistent in both left- and right-handers.

For cheek kissing an interesting lateralization pattern emerged. Research studies have found that head tilting during kissing is influenced by handedness (Ocklenburg & Güntürkün 2009), and embracing is influenced by emotional context, with a leftward shift in emotional embraces (Packheiser et al., 2019). Both of these influences were observed in our data on cheek kissing. There was an overall bias for participants to kiss the left cheek (from the perspective of the kisser) of a person they were emotionally close to who was facing them. This effect was qualified by a significant effect of handedness, with left-handers showing a significant tendency to kiss the left cheek and the right-handers the right cheek, with the stronger tendency in the left-handers carrying the overall left-cheek bias. In addition, compared to the stronger rightward lateralization of handedness, footedness and masturbation, for cheek kissing there was an overall stronger leftward lateralization. This leftward bias in cheek kissing is consistent with the right hemisphere hypothesis of emotional asymmetries, with the greater involvement of the RH biasing motor behaviour towards the left (Ocklenburg et al., 2018). A further possibility is that it is related to a more general leftward bias when interacting with visual stimuli (Ciricugno et al., 2021; Jewell & McCourt, 2000; Nicholls & Roberts, 2002; Rodway & Schepman, 2020). Both interpretations require further research to determine the cause of this effect.

Chapelain et al. (2015) previously used a self-report measure of cheek kissing, similar to the one used in the present study. They measured choice of cheek and number of kisses for social greetings from various regions throughout France, and found an effect of region on cheek choice but no effect of handedness. The discrepant effects of handedness between Chapelain et al.’s research and the present study can be explained by the fact that cheek kissing for a social greeting, involving multiple kisses, is a very different interaction from a single kiss on the cheek of an emotionally close person. Importantly, the results from the present study replicate previous effects of handedness on lateralized kissing biases (Ocklenburg & Güntürkün 2009; Karim et al., 2017), with our study using a different task and a large sample of left-handers.

Other results were also in line with expectations and showed that the data calibrated well with previous research. Men were found to masturbate more than women, replicating previous findings (Leitenberg, et al., 1993; Driemeyer, et al., 2017) and a similar frequency of sex aid use by males for masturbation (33%) was found to that reported by Herbenick et al. (2017). The use of sex aids by women in our sample (75%) was somewhat higher (52.5%) than reported by Herbenick et al. (2009), and the 50.2% of vibrator or dildo use reported in Herbenick et al. (2017). This could be due to several factors, such as our participants self-selecting to opt into a study about masturbation, an increase in the use of sex aids over recent years, cultural differences between the US and the UK, and the fact that our data were collected during the coronavirus / Covid-19 pandemic.

In a survey of sexual behaviours of people in the United States, a substantial proportion of men (82.3%) and women (60.4%) reported having watched pornography (Herbenick et al., 2017). In the present study, participants were asked which hand they typically used to masturbate and which hand they typically used if they were not holding anything else. This was to check, for those participants who masturbated while viewing pornography (and which could involve the use of their dominant hand to control a computer mouse, or hold written material), if there was an increase in the use of the dominant hand when they were not holding anything else. However, we found no significant difference overall between these questions. Our data therefore suggested that preferred hand use for masturbation was not strongly determined by holding other objects and that participants continued to use their dominant hand for masturbation even when they might be holding something else. A possible limitation, however, is that we did not directly ask which hand they used when viewing pornography, and it is possible that if we had asked this question there might have been evidence of a shift towards using the non-dominant hand.

In the majority of left- and right-handers, eyedness and footedness was congruent with their handedness, replicating previous findings (Bourassa, McManus, & Bryden, 1996; Porac, 1997). In addition, hand preference for masturbation correlated more strongly with scores on the modified Edinburgh Handedness Inventory, than with footedness, eyedness, or kissing. Masturbation had a strength of hand preference (53 for typical hand) that fell between that shown via the modified EHI score (71), and both footedness (32) and eyedness (33), with significant differences between masturbation with the typical hand and modified EHI. This suggests that, although dominant hand preference for masturbation was weaker than that measured via the modified EHI, it may nevertheless be a reliable measure of hand preference in general. It can also be noted that historically in some cultures, such as India and ancient Rome, masturbation has been specifically linked with using the left hand (Derrett, 2006). Despite this historical association, there was no evidence in our sample of UK participants that such an association caused large numbers of right-handers to use their left hand.

An interesting incidental finding is that there were no differences in masturbation frequency between left- and right-handers for either men or women. Occasionally, research has tended to pathologise left-handedness (see Porac, 2015 for a discussion), rather than treating it as a natural variation that provides fitness benefits (Groothuis, et al., 2021), with an emphasis on health issues (Peters et al., 2006) and increases in atypical sexual behaviours (Fazio, Lykins, & Cantor, 2014). Also, some theories of the origin of left-handedness have linked it to increased levels of prenatal testosterone (see Grimshaw, Bryden, & Finegan, 1995; Richards et al., 2021, for discussions). As higher levels of testosterone in adults have been associated with more frequent masturbation (O’Connor, et al., 2011), theoretically, although via a speculative leap, it could be hypothesized there might be a difference in masturbation frequency between left- and right-handers. There was no evidence of this in the data, which is in line with the body of research showing that left- and right-handers are much more similar to each other than they are different (see Porac, 2015 for a review).

There are a number of potential limitations with the present study. The results might be specific to our UK sample and our exclusion criteria, which asked prospective participants whose culture or beliefs strongly determined which hand they used for certain actions not to take part. This was to elicit reports of natural, rather than culturally-conditioned behaviours. It may be that cultures that associate using the left hand with activities that may be classed as impure could show different patterns of behaviour, perhaps with a higher proportion of right-handers using their left hand for masturbation. The data were also based on self-report, rather than observation, for obvious ethical and moral reasons, raising the possibility they did not accurately represent participants’ behaviour. However, the results calibrate well with findings from other research, which gives confidence in their accuracy and validity. In addition, it is likely that the anonymity and privacy of the survey enabled participants to feel more able to respond honestly to the questions, than if the data had been collected in a less anonymous way, even if this had been ethically and morally acceptable. Thus, the constraints placed on the data acquisition method may not necessarily have been a hindrance in the collection of reliable data.

To summarize, hand preference for masturbation was strongly lateralized, with most people preferring to use their dominant hand, perhaps because it affords greater motor control, or because they use that hand for most activities. Right-handers were more strongly lateralized than left-handers for masturbation, EHI, and footedness, but left-handers more for kissing. There was no evidence for masturbation being more strongly lateralized than the behaviours measured by the Edinburgh Handedness Inventory. A small proportion of people chose to use their non-dominant hand for masturbation. This was not due to other objects occupying their dominant hand. There was no evidence that specialization of the RH for sexual arousal or emotion caused a shift towards greater use of the left hand for masturbation. However, there was a general leftward shift in cheek kissing. This finding is compatible with the RH hypothesis of emotional lateralization, with the greater involvement of the RH during the emotional behaviour of kissing, biasing motor behaviour towards the left. Therefore emotional context may influence lateralized motor behaviour particularly in social settings (such as kissing), rather than in a setting which can induce emotion but which is private (masturbation). In all, masturbation shows a similar pattern of lateralization to other unimanual behaviours in left-handed and right-handed men and women.