Turning off hot feelings: Down-regulation of sexual desire using distraction and situation-focused reappraisal

Roni Shafir*, Leemor Zucker, Gal Sheppes

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Despite the frequent need to down-regulate sexual desire, existing studies are scarce, and focus on strategies that involve disengagement from processing sexual stimuli. Accordingly, the present study compared the efficacy of down-regulating sexual desire via disengagement (attentional distraction) and engagement (situation-focused reappraisal) strategies. Utilizing Event Related Potentials, we measured the Late Positive Potential (LPP) – an electro-cortical component that denotes processing of arousing stimuli, showing decreased amplitudes during successful down-regulation. Additionally, we explored whether the sexual-intensity level of stimuli (validated in a pilot study) impacts the efficacy of, and individuals’ behavioral preferences for distraction and situation-focused reappraisal. Supporting our predictions, relative to passive watching, both strategies successfully attenuated self-reported desire and LPP amplitudes, with a marginal trend (p =.07) showing stronger LPP attenuation during distraction compared to reappraisal. While sexual-intensity did not moderate regulatory efficacy, as predicted, disengagement-distraction preference increased for sexually-intense relative to sexually-mild stimuli. Broad implications are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)116-124
Number of pages9
JournalBiological Psychology
StatePublished - Sep 2018


  • Distraction
  • Emotion regulation
  • Late positive potential
  • Reappraisal
  • Sexual desire


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