Cybersex addiction : Craving and cognitive processes
Cybersex addiction is discussed with growing interest, because some individuals report symptoms of dependency regarding their cybersex use resulting in personal distress of clinical significance. The aim of this dissertation is to investigate the role of the reinforcing nature of pornographic stimuli in cybersex addiction within four studies. In the first and the second study the theoretical background of substance dependency has been taken as basis for cybersex addiction and experimental paradigms used in research on substance dependencies were adapted to the field of cybersex addiction. These studies address the role of positive reinforcement, cue-reactivity, and predefining vulnerability in cybersex addiction. Regarding this, sensitivity for sexual excitation and a generally problematic use of sex were identified as specific factors of vulnerability and a general psychological-psychiatric symptom severity as unspecific factor of vulnerability for cybersex addiction. It was shown that these vulnerability factors together with self-reported craving predicted tendencies towards cybersex addiction. Moreover, the intensity of craving partially mediated the relationship of specific and unspecific vulnerability factors with tendencies towards cybersex addiction. However, indicators of a poor sex life in general were not associated to symptoms of cybersex addiction. The third and the forth study examined the effect of pornographic stimuli on cognitive processes. It was shown that working memory and decision-making performance was worse when pornographic pictures had to be processed simultaneously. From a cognitive point of view, these results might partly explain why some individuals continue cybersex activities although they experience negative consequences during or following their cybersex use. Altogether, the studies’ findings are discussed according to the assumed underlying processes of conditioning to explain the repeated cybersex use in the light of growing, but neglected negative consequences. It is concluded that positive reinforcement due to sexual arousal can be considered as core mechanism in the development of cybersex addiction and interferes with cognitive processes important for goal-directed behaviors.