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Sex on the Brain?: An Examination of Frequency of Sexual Cognitions as a Function of Gender, Erotophilia, and Social Desirability

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  • The Ohio State University at Mansfield

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It is commonly believed that men think about sex much more often than do women, but the empirical evidence in this area is fairly weak. By means of a golf tally counter, 283 college students kept track of their thoughts pertaining to food, sleep, or sex for one week. Males reported significantly more need-based cognitions overall, but there was no significant interaction between sex of participant and type of cognition recorded. Therefore, although these young men did think more about sex than did young women, they also thought more about food and sleep. In contrast, a retrospective estimated frequency of need-based cognitions obtained at the start of the study revealed a sex difference in sexual cognitions, but not thoughts about eating or sleeping. Erotophilia and sexual desirability responding were significant predictors of frequency of sexual cognitions for women, but not for men. Overall, erotophilia was a better predictor of sexual cognition than was sex of participant. Taken as a whole, the results suggest that, although there may be a sex difference in sexual cognitions, it is smaller than is generally thought, and the reporting is likely influenced by sex role expectations.
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Sex on the Brain?: An Examination of Frequency of Sexual Cognitions as a
Function of Gender, Erotophilia, and Social Desirability
Terri D. Fishera; Zachary T. Moorea; Mary-Jo Pittengera
a Department of Psychology, The Ohio State University at Mansfield,
First published on: 19 April 2011
To cite this Article Fisher, Terri D. , Moore, Zachary T. and Pittenger, Mary-Jo(2011) 'Sex on the Brain?: An Examination
of Frequency of Sexual Cognitions as a Function of Gender, Erotophilia, and Social Desirability', Journal of Sex
Research,, First published on: 19 April 2011 (iFirst)
To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1080/00224499.2011.565429
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Sex on the Brain?: An Examination of Frequency of Sexual Cognitions
as a Function of Gender, Erotophilia, and Social Desirability
Terri D. Fisher, Zachary T. Moore, and Mary-Jo Pittenger
Department of Psychology, The Ohio State University at Mansfield
It is commonly believed that men think about sex much more often than do women, but the
empirical evidence in this area is fairly weak. By means of a golf tally counter, 283 college
students kept track of their thoughts pertaining to food, sleep, or sex for one week. Males
reported significantly more need-based cognitions overall, but there was no significant interac-
tion between sex of participant and type of cognition recorded. Therefore, although these
young men did think more about sex than did young women, they also thought more about food
and sleep. In contrast, a retrospective estimated frequency of need-based cognitions obtained
at the start of the study revealed a sex difference in sexual cognitions, but not thoughts about
eating or sleeping. Erotophilia and sexual desirability responding were significant predictors of
frequency of sexual cognitions for women, but not for men. Overall, erotophilia was a better
predictor of sexual cognition than was sex of participant. Taken as a whole, the results suggest
that, although there may be a sex difference in sexual cognitions, it is smaller than is generally
thought, and the reporting is likely influenced by sex role expectations.
According to stereotype and the popular media, men
think about sex much more than do women. This belief
is illustrated by cartoons that depict the male brain as
filled with little other than thoughts of sex, and is perpe-
tuated by numerous jokes and wild claims in the popular
literature media (Brizendine, 2006; ‘‘Men Think About
Sex,’’ 2010). The statistic that men think about sex every
seven seconds is so prevalent that it is even addressed at
the popular debunking site, Snopes.com (Mikkelson,
2007). In the scientific literature, studies that indicate
that men think about sex much more often than do
women have been used to support the conclusion that
men have a more powerful sex drive than do women
(Baumeister, Catanese, & Vohs, 2001). However, a care-
ful look at the research literature indicates that research
on sex differences in frequency of sexual cognitions has
generally not been methodologically rigorous, leaving
conclusions less than certain.
Empirical Research on Sexual Cognitions
Renaud and Byers (2001) utilized the term sexual
cognition to refer to ‘‘fleeting sexual thoughts or images,
more elaborate and ongoing sexual fantasies, sexual
thoughts that are experienced as intrusive, and sexual
thoughts and fantasies that are engaged in deliberately’’
(p. 253), approximating the general conception of a
‘‘sexual thought.’’ Reviewing the extant literature on
sex differences in sexual cognition leads to two conclu-
sions. First, the findings have been inconsistent, ranging
from significant differences in frequency of sexual
cognitions (Cameron & Biber, 1973; Fischtein, Herold,
& Desmarais, 2007; Hsu et al., 1994; Jones & Barlow,
1990; Knoth, Boyd, & Singer, 1988; Laumann, Gagnon,
Michael, & Michaels, 1994; Renaud & Byers, 1999), to
marginal or mixed differences (Hessellund, 1976;
McCauley & Swann, 1978), to no differences at all
(Cameron, 1967; Knafo & Jaffe, 1984). It is possible that
the degree of these differences has diminished over the
years in light of social changes and the lessening
double-standard. For example, in a replication of a
previous study, Hsu et al. (1994) found that gender dif-
ferences in sexual fantasy declined over a 10-year period,
suggesting that there is more to this particular sex differ-
ence than just biology. Second, the research method-
ology generally has been weak, typically relying on
retrospective estimates. Because of stereotyped expecta-
tions that males are more sexual than females (see
Leitenberg & Henning, 1995), social norms and the
research context appear to influence reports of sexual
behavior (Alexander & Fisher, 2003; Fisher, 2007,
2009; Jonason & Fisher, 2009). Thus, reports of sexual
thought frequency are also likely to reflect the well-
known stereotype, as well as societal expectations.
Funding for this study came from an undergraduate research grant
from The Ohio State University at Mansfield. Thanks to Jenna Kilgore
for her assistance with data collection and coding.
Correspondence should be addressed to Terri D. Fisher, Depart-
ment of Psychology, The Ohio State University at Mansfield, 1670
University Dr., Mansfield, OH 44906. E-mail: fisher.16@osu.edu
JOURNAL OF SEX RESEARCH, 0(0), 1–9, 2011
Copyright #The Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality
ISSN: 0022-4499 print=1559-8519 online
DOI: 10.1080/00224499.2011.565429
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Samples used in previous research have ranged from
nationally representative surveys (Fischtein et al., 2007;
Laumann et al., 1994; Wilson, 1997), to college students
(Hsu et al., 1994; Knafo & Jaffe, 1984; McCauley &
Swann, 1978; Renaud & Byers, 2001; Robinson &
Calhoun, 1982–1983), to a mix of various convenience
or ‘‘person on the street’’ samples (Cameron & Biber,
1973; Knoth et al., 1988; Wilson & Lang, 1981). The
retrospective self-reports that have been used to study
sexual cognitions have generally involved a limited
number of response options, leading not only to a ceil-
ing effect, but also to a form of demand characteristic
responding. To the extent that participants may be
impacted by sex-role stereotypes and resultant social
desirability-based responding, males should be more
compelled to select the maximum response option
(‘‘many times a day,’’ ‘‘9 or more times a day,’’ ‘‘greater
than five times in the last four weeks,’’ ‘‘regularly’’) than
women. Other methodologies have included requiring
participants to estimate what percentage of the day they
spent thinking about sex (Cameron, 1967), asking
individuals at one point in time about the thoughts they
have had in the past five minutes (Cameron & Biber,
1973), and a week-long diary study wherein individuals
were asked to record each time they experienced a sexual
cognition (Jones & Barlow, 1990).
In the most methodologically sound study to date
(Jones & Barlow, 1990), participants were provided with
a self-monitoring form and asked to track their sexual
urges, sexual fantasies, and masturbatory fantasies for
a seven-day period. With this open-ended measure,
men reported a daily average of slightly fewer than eight
sexual thoughts, whereas the women reported fewer
than five. The results of this study indicated that
men think about sex more often than women, although
certainly not nearly to the degree suggested by the
popular media. However, the self-monitoring form used
may not have been completely portable or discreet. It
is possible that sexual thoughts could have occurred
while the self-monitoring form was not nearby or that
the respondent may have been embarrassed to record
sexual thoughts in the presence of others, suggesting
the need for a more effective means of recording
thoughts.
In the previous studies, participants were asked to
report on only their sexual cognitions, but not on any
other thoughts related to a physiological need such as
eating or sleeping. Therefore, it is impossible to know
if the sex differences that have been found in the majority
of studies relate solely to thoughts about sexuality or
whether males are also more inclined to report other
need-related thoughts. Although there are sex-role based
expectations regarding food, with males being expected
to eat more than women and women being viewed more
negatively when they gain weight (Herman & Polivy,
2010), there are no such stereotypes or expectations for
sleep. Thus, if social desirability responding is related
to cognitions about sex and eating, but not about sleep,
this would imply that sex-role expectations influence the
reporting of some need-related cognitions.
This Study
One system not previously used is to ask participants
to keep track of sexual cognitions with a golf tally coun-
ter. This simple, inexpensive device enables an individual
to click the counter when a thought occurs, and is small
enough to be kept in a pocket or clipped to a belt. To
eliminate embarrassment to the participants and to pro-
vide control conditions, some participants were asked to
keep track of thoughts pertaining to food or sleep. A
measure of social desirability responding was adminis-
tered to understand better the degree to which the desire
to look good to others might impact reports of sexual
cognitions. We also wished to determine whether there
were any variables that were more strongly predictive
of frequency of sexual cognitions than was gender and,
therefore, included some likely measures of sexual beha-
vior and attitudes. To mask the primary purpose of the
study, we administered various measures of eating and
sleeping behavior. In this study, college students were
recruited because this is the most common sample used
in previous such research and because traditional college
students are at an age at which the largest sex differences
might be expected (Petersen & Hyde, 2010).
If men do report more sexual thoughts than women,
it is important to know if this is true strictly for sexual
cognitions, or if there is also a sex difference regarding
thoughts about other biological functions. Based on pre-
vious research, we expected a sex difference in frequency
of tally-counted sexual cognitions, but we had no basis
for a hypothesis regarding cognitions pertaining to sleep
and food. It is possible that women would be reluctant
to report thoughts of food because of the social pressure
not to eat as much as men (Herman & Polivy, 2010). On
the other hand, because more women diet then men
(Liebman, Cameron, Carson, Brown, & Meyer, 2001),
the restrained eating could actually lead to more
thoughts of food (Polivy, 1996). We also predicted that
when asked for retrospective estimates, males would
provide significantly higher estimates of their frequency
of sexual thoughts than would females, due to the
well-known stereotype that men think about sex more
than do women. Finally, due to stereotypes and sex-role
expectations, we expected female participants’ reports of
thoughts about sex and eating (but not sleep) to be
negatively related to their social desirability scores.
We also wanted to examine variability in sexual
cognitions, but had no real basis for a hypothesis.
Baumeister (2000) argued that women are more variable
in the expression of their sexuality, and Lippa (2009)
found that the variability of women’s sex drive was
greater than that of men. However, Gouveia-Oliveira
FISHER, MOORE, AND PITTENGER
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and Pedersen (2009) reported greater variability in
numbers of sexual partners for men compared to
women; and in various cognitive realms of behavior, it
is men who have been found to exhibit greater variability
(Feingold, 1992; Johnson, Carothers, & Deary, 2008).
Method
Participants
Participants were 163 female and 120 male college
students between the ages of 18 and 25 (M¼19.0), who
chose the study as part of the Psych 100 research partici-
pation program at an open admissions regional campus
of a large Midwestern university. There were 59 parti-
cipants randomly assigned to track their thoughts about
food (27 male and 32 female), 61 assigned to track their
thoughts about sleep (21 male and 40 female), and 163
assigned to track their thoughts about sex (72 male and
91 female). The vast majority of the sample were White
(88.3%) and self-identified as heterosexual (96.1%).
Materials
The questionnaire consisted of various measures of
eating, sleeping, and sexual behaviors, although the
eating and sleeping measures were used only to mask
the focus on sexuality and were not included in the data
analysis. To obtain background information about the
participants, various demographic questions were asked.
After data collection had already begun, we realized we
had neglected to ask the participants to provide an esti-
mate of the frequency of their need-related cognitions
(the standard methodology used in many past studies).
Thus, the questionnaire was modified to include
open-ended questions about the estimated frequency of
daily thoughts about sleeping, eating, and sex (‘‘How
many times in an average day [24 hour period] do you
think about eating=sleeping=sex? _____ ’’). Those ques-
tions were, therefore, answered by only about one half
of the participants.
The Sexual Opinion Survey (SOS; Fisher, Byrne, &
White, 1983) was used to measure a positive or negative
emotional orientation and predilection toward sexuality-
related situations (the dimension of erotophobia-
erotophilia). This instrument consists of 21 statements
with which participants express their degree of agree-
ment by means of a seven-point Likert response scale.
Possible scores range from 0 to 126, with higher scores
indicating more positive emotional responses to sexuality
(for this sample, a¼.82). Sample items include, ‘‘If
people thought I was interested in oral sex, I would be
embarrassed,’’ and ‘‘Engaging in group sex is an enter-
taining idea.’’
The revised version of the Sociosexual Orientation
Inventory (SOI; Penke & Asendorpf, 2008) measures
the degree to which an individual has an unrestricted
sociosexual orientation (i.e., willingness of an individual
to participate in casual sexual encounters, to have
multiple sexual partners, and to have sex sooner in a
relationship) without some of the problems inherent in
the original SOI (Simpson & Gangestad, 1991). It con-
sists of nine items that assess attitudes (‘‘Sex without
love is OK’’), behavior (‘‘With how many different part-
ners have you had sexual intercourse on one and only one
occasion?’’), and desire (‘‘In everyday life, how often do
you have spontaneous fantasies about having sex with
someone you have just met?’’). A nine-point response
scale was provided for each item, yielding possible score
ranges from 0 to 81. For this sample, a¼.87.
The 20-item version of the Marlowe–Crowne Social
Desirability Scale (Strahan & Gerbasi, 1972) was used
to measure participants’ tendency to choose responses
that would make them appear more socially desirable.
Questions such as, ‘‘I’m always willing to admit it when
I make a mistake’’ and ‘‘I sometimes feel resentful when
I don’t get my way,’’ were answered by means of a true–
false format, and possible scores range from 0 to 20, with
higher scores corresponding to more of a tendency to
give socially desirable responses. For this sample, a¼.73.
Additional measures that were included only to disguise
the emphasis on sexuality in this study included the Eating
Habits Questionnaire (Graham, 2003), the Epworth
Sleepiness Scale (Johns, 1991), and questions developed
by us that pertained to health-related behaviors.
Participants were also provided with a small manila
envelope that contained a tally counter, instructions,
and a tally sheet. The instructions provided to those in
the sexual thoughts condition were as follows:
Please tally every thought that you have pertaining to
sex. A sexual thought is any thought about intercourse,
oral sex, masturbation, nudity, sexual desire, sexual
fantasies, foreplay, sexual memories, erotic images, or
other sexually arousing stimuli. For example, if you
think about what someone to whom you are attracted
might look like naked, you will add a tally with the tally
counter. This will require you to keep the tally counter
with you at all times. Just before you go to bed you will
record the number of tallies on the tally counter onto the
record sheet. Then you will reset the tally counter for the
next day. You will do this for seven days.
A thought about eating was described as related to food,
hunger, food cravings, snacking, or cooking; and a
thought about sleeping was described as related to dream-
ing, sleeping, napping, going to bed, or needing rest.
The tally sheet also contained four questions asses-
sing the participants’ reactions to participating in the
study, as well as a space for comments.
Procedure
Participants were informed in advance that they
would be asked to keep track of health-related thoughts.
FREQUENCY OF SEXUAL COGNITIONS
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Students completed surveys in a large classroom in
groups ranging in size from 3 to 23. Each participant
was provided with a code number that was written on
the questionnaire, the tally counter, and the tally sheet
in order to enable matching of responses after the study
was complete. While sitting far apart from others, part-
icipants completed their questionnaires anonymously
and then placed them in a locked wooden box. Parti-
cipants were also provided with a packet containing a
tally counter, the reporting sheet with instructions, and
the condition assignment note that informed them
whether they were to keep track of thoughts regarding
sex, food, or sleep, and provided a brief description of
such thoughts. Assignment to each condition was
random, but more participants (approximately 60%)
were assigned to the sexual thought condition as that
was the focus of the study.
Participants were asked to reset the tally counter
every day, and they were falsely informed that the
researcher would be able to verify that this had been
done in order to ensure accurate counts. The parti-
cipants were instructed not to share details regarding
the condition to which they were assigned with anybody.
After recording their thoughts for one week, they
returned the reporting sheets to a locked wooden box
placed in a psychology lab waiting area, with only the
code number identifying the participant (a situation
likely to feel more anonymous to the participants than
the equally anonymous small-group testing at the start
of the study). At the end of each academic quarter, part-
icipants were debriefed via e-mail regarding the purpose
of the study and the fact that it was not really possible to
determine if the tally counter had been reset. Data col-
lection continued for three academic quarters. This pro-
cedure, including the deception, was approved by the
institutional review board of The Ohio State University.
Results
Mean daily tally counts were computed for each par-
ticipant by dividing the weekly total by seven. The mean
and median tally counts and estimated self-reports for
men and women in each condition are shown in
Table 1, along with the range and standard deviation
for each condition. Men’s and women’s retrospective
estimates of sexual cognition frequency were similar in
range, with a daily maximum of 50 for both sexes, but
the median estimate for men was five thoughts per day
compared to the median of three thoughts per day for
women. The average daily tally counts revealed greater
differences in range, with the maximum for men being
388 compared to 140 for women. The median daily tally
count for men was 18.6 compared to a median of 9.9
for women.
Levene’s test of equality for variances of the sex-
related tally count data indicated that the standard devi-
ation for men was significantly higher than that for
women, F(1, 160) ¼6.13, p¼.014, with a female to male
ratio of .42. The variance was also significantly greater
for males than for females for the tally counts of cogni-
tions pertaining to food (.44 ratio) and sleep (.23 ratio).
There was no significant sex difference in the variance
for the retrospective estimates, with female to male
ratios of .94, 1.04, and 1.37 for cognitions about sex,
food, and sleep, respectively.
Both the sexual cognition estimates and the tally
count data were highly positively skewed, and exhibited
a high level of kurtosis. Thus, before any inferential
analyses were done, the estimates and the daily tally
counts were submitted to a log transformation in order
to normalize the data.
A series of paired-sample ttests comparing the two
sources of frequency of need-related cognitions con-
firmed that tally counts were significantly higher than
estimated self-reports for all three types of cognitions:
for sex, t(61) ¼6.96, p<.001; for eating, t(35) ¼4.40,
p<.001; and for sleep, t(40) ¼5.18, p<.001. The
Pearson correlation between estimated sexual cognitions
and those that were based on the tally counts was signifi-
cant, r(61) ¼.46, p<.001. Correlations between the tally
counts and participants’ retrospective estimates of
need-related cognitions analyzed separately for males
and females ranged from .15 to .74, with the results
shown in Table 2. Men and women were equivalent in
the degree to which their estimated thought frequency
Table 1. Daily Mean Tally Counts and Estimated Self-Reports of Need-Based Cognitions for Women and Men
Men Women
Variable Range M SD Mdn n Range M SD Mdn n
Food estimate 2–50 7.6 6.9 5.0 53 2–50 8.0 7.3 6.0 88
Food count 3–111 25.1 23.7 17.7 27 3–53 15.3 10.4 14.9 32
Sleep estimate 0–50 5.8 5.2 4.0 53 0–50 6.2 6.7 4.0 87
Sleep count 3–253 29.0 55.8 10.7 21 2–57 13.4 12.8 8.6 40
Sex estimate 0–50 7.9 8.4 5.0 53 1–50 6.1 7.9 3.0 87
Sex count 1–388 34.2 57.5 18.6 71 1–140 18.6 24.0 9.9 91
Note. Tally counts reflect the weekly total divided by seven to provide an average daily count. The values provided in the range are rounded to the
nearest whole number.
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correlated with the tally counts except regarding
sleep-related thoughts, for which a Fisher’s rto ztrans-
formation examining the significance of the difference
between correlations revealed that estimates of men
were significantly more closely aligned with their tally
count results than those of women (z¼2.04, p¼.04).
As predicted, women’s social desirability responding
was negatively correlated with tally counter-based
reports of thoughts of sex, r(88) ¼.25, p¼.008 and
food, r(30) ¼.46, p¼.004; but not for thoughts of
sleep, r(38) ¼.18, p¼.13. For men, social desirability
responding was not correlated with any need-based cog-
nition: for sex, r(68) ¼.08, p¼.26; for food, r(24) ¼.25,
p¼.11; and for sleep, r(19) ¼.21, p¼.18. The corre-
lation between social desirability responding and tally
counts of sexual cognition was significantly higher for
women than for men, based on a Fisher’s rto ztrans-
formation, z¼2.07, p¼.019.
Social desirability scores were used as a covariate in a
2 (Sex) 3 (Condition) analysis of variance that indi-
cated a significant main effect of sex of participant,
F(1, 272) ¼9.98, p¼.002 (g2
p¼:035), with males report-
ing higher numbers of tally counted daily need-related
cognitions than females (for males, M¼1.220 [29.87
before log transformation], SD ¼0.049; for females,
M¼1.020 [15.84 before log transformation], SD ¼
0.040); but no significant main effect of condition, F(2,
272) ¼0.65, p¼.52 (g2
p¼:005), and no significant
interaction, F(2, 272) ¼0.32, p¼.72 (g2
p¼:002). Thus,
using the tally counter, men reported more need-related
cognitions overall, regardless of whether they were
related to food, sleep, or sex, which is somewhat differ-
ent than the popular stereotype that men think primarily
about sex.
The log-transformed data for those participants who
were asked to estimate their average daily number of
thoughts about food, sleep, and sex on the pretest were
subjected to a multivariate analysis of variance, again
using social desirability responding as a covariate. A
Hotelling’s Trace of .068 indicated a significant sex dif-
ference, F(3, 126) ¼2.87, p¼.039 (g2
p¼:064); and a test
of between-subject effects indicated a significant sex dif-
ference for reports of sexual thoughts, F(1, 128) ¼5.64,
p¼.019 (g2
p¼:042); with males estimating more
thoughts about sex (M¼0.76 [M¼7.9 before trans-
formation], SD ¼0.35) than females (M¼0.56 [M¼6.1
before transformation], SD ¼0.49). There were no sig-
nificant sex differences for estimated frequency of
thoughts about eating, F(1, 128) ¼0.15, p¼.70, or sleep-
ing, F(1, 128) ¼0.34, p¼.56. This is the finding that
would be anticipated based on the popular stereotype.
1
Table 3 specifically focuses on those 163 participants
who were assigned to keep track of their sexuality-related
cognitions. Data from men and women were equivalent
and are, thus, not presented separately. What is apparent
from examining the correlations between the estimated
need-related cognitions (sexual, food-related, or sleep-
related) with the actual tally counted sexual cognitions
is that they were all moderately correlated with tally
counts of sexual cognitions. A series of Fisher’s rto z
transformations were conducted to determine if the three
correlations between estimated need-related cognitions
and tally counted sexual cognitions were significantly dif-
ferent from one another, which they were not (zs ranged
from .06–.90; ps ranged from .37–.95). This means that
retrospective estimates of sexual cognitions were no
more predictive of tally counts of sexual cognitions than
were retrospective estimates of the other need-based cog-
nitions. The correlations between the retrospectively esti-
mated sexual cognitions and the two measures of sexual
attitudes (SOS and SOI) were significantly higher than
those between these sexuality measures and the tally
counted sexual cognitions (for SOS, z¼3.05, p¼.002;
for SOI, z¼2.36, p¼.018).
For data on sexual cognitions recorded by the tally
counter, a multiple regression analysis using the vari-
ables of sex of participant, social desirability respond-
ing, sociosexuality, and erotophilia to predict sexual
cognitions indicated that, while the model significantly
predicted frequency of sexual thoughts (R
2
¼.201,
p<.001, df ¼153), the only significant individual predic-
tor was erotophilia, although sex of participant came
close to reaching significance (see Table 4). When mul-
tiple regression analyses were done separately for males
and females using the variables of social desirability
responding, sociosexuality, and erotophilia to predict
sexual cognitions, only the female data yielded signifi-
cant relationships, R
2
¼.27, p<.001 (df ¼189), with
social desirability responding and erotophilia both
serving as significant predictors of sexual cognitions.
Women with lower social desirability scores and women
with higher erotophilia scores reported greater numbers
of sexual cognitions. These results are reported in
Table 4.
The results of the posttest evaluation of the experi-
ence indicated that a great majority of the participants
Table 2. Pearson Correlation Coefficients for Estimated and
Tally Counted Frequency of Log-Transformed Need-Based
Cognitions
Focus of Cognitions Total (n) Males (n) Females (n)
Food .24 (36) .31 (14) .15 (22)
Sleep .35(41) .74 (12) .16 (29)
Sex .46 (62) .39(27) .50 (35)
p<.05. p<.01.
1
One male participant wrote a lengthy comment on his tally sheet
that included the following relevant statement: ‘‘I also did research.
Males have thoughts on sex every 8 seconds. It’s really hard to keep
track of every single one.’’ This particular participant had the second
highest daily tally count of sexual cognitions; but, taking into account
time spent sleeping, it still averaged to only one thought every
220 sec—far different than the statistics he cited as fact.
FREQUENCY OF SEXUAL COGNITIONS
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enjoyed their experience (78%) and learned something
from it (59%). Although over one half of them (54%)
reported that the tally counter was intrusive in their
daily activities, 84% of the participants indicated that
they would be willing to participate in a similar study.
Discussion
This study is unique because it has utilized a prospec-
tive and objective approach to assessing frequency of
sexual cognitions using a simple tracking system, with
a control for social desirability and a comparison with
need-related thoughts of a non-sexual nature. The tally
counter results indicated that, although men do appear
to think more about sex on a daily basis than do women,
they also think more about food and sleep. In contrast,
when participants were asked to retrospectively estimate
the degree to which they engage in need-related
cognitions, only sexual cognitions yielded a significant
sex difference. Participants appear to have greatly
underestimated (or underreported) their frequency of
need-related cognitions, as evidenced by the actual tally
counts, which were two to four times the estimated
frequencies. Interestingly, the mean retrospective
estimates of sexual cognitions obtained in this study
were very similar to the mean counts obtained in the
week-long recording of college students’ sexual thoughts
reported by Jones and Barlow (1990). This suggests that
the use of the tally counter in this study facilitated the
recording process, yielding significantly higher counts
of sexual cognitions from both sexes.
As expected, social desirability was negatively related
to women’s tally-counted sexual cognitions. However,
erotophilia was actually a more powerful predictor of
frequency of sexual cognitions than was biological sex.
In fact, there were several areas in which men and
women were quite similar—most notably, with regard
to the variance of their retrospective estimates; the cor-
relation between their retrospective estimates and tally
counts for cognitions about sex; and, of course, for their
retrospective estimates of frequency of thoughts of food
and sleep. The finding that there was no difference in the
degree to which estimated sexual cognitions and tally
counts were correlated in men and women suggests that
the sexes are equivalent in the accuracy (or lack thereof)
of their retrospective reports of sexual cognition. Simi-
larly, Gillmore, Leigh, Hoppe, and Morrison (2010)
recently reported no gender difference in the correlation
between daily and retrospective reports of vaginal sex.
To the extent that there is a significant sex difference
with regard to reporting of need-based cognitions, it is
not clear whether this difference is related to biologically
based needs or whether men and women attend to or
conceptualize ‘‘thoughts’’ differently. Perhaps men have
a lower threshold for the labeling or recognition of
cognition, or perhaps they actually do spend more time
pondering their need states. However, based on the
results of this study, young men appear to spend only
a brief fraction of their day involved with sexually
related cognitions (with the median suggesting just
slightly more than once per waking hour).
It is possible that at least part of this sex difference is
due to a greater reluctance on the part of women to
report such cognitions. In light of the stereotype that
men think much more often about sex than do women,
some young women, particularly those with greater
discomfort with sexuality, may be reluctant to report
that they think about sex very often. The significant
interaction between sex of participant and condition
for the retrospective estimates but not the actual tally
counts supports such a hypothesis. The higher correla-
tions of social desirability with tally counts of sex- and
eating-related cognitions in women also suggests that
the reporting of female participants was influenced by
stereotypes or social expectations that men think more
often about sex than do women. Finally, the finding that
social desirability and erotophilia were significant pre-
dictors of tally count reports of sexual cognitions for
women but not for men strongly suggests that culture
Table 4. Multiple Regression Analyses for Frequency of
Sexual Thoughts
Variable B SEB b
Sex of subject .15 .08 –.14y
Social desirability –.01 .01 –.08
Sociosexuality .00 .00 .11
Erotophilia .01 .00 .28
Females Males
B SEB bB SEB b
Social desirability –.03 .02 –.19.01 .02 .07
Sociosexuality .00 .00 .07 .01 .01 .18
Erotophilia .01 .00 .41 .00 .00 .02
Note. For full sample, R
2
¼.20, p<.001 (df ¼153); for females,
R
2
¼.27, p<.001 (df ¼89); for males, R
2
¼.04, p¼.47 (df ¼67).
Higher scores correspond to greater amounts of the variable, except
for sex of subject where male ¼1 and female ¼2.
p<.05. p<.01.
y<.10.
Table 3. Sexual Cognitions Correlated with Estimated
Need-Based Cognitions, Erotophilia, and Sociosexuality
Variable
Counted
Sexual
Cognitions
Estimated
Sexual
Cognitions
Estimated sexual cognitions .46 (62) —
Estimated eating cognitions .32(63) .35 (62)
Estimated sleep cognitions .33 (63) .27(62)
Sexual Opinion Survey .41 (159) .73 (60)
Sociosexual Orientation Inventory .35 (162) .62 (62)
p<.05. p<.01.
FISHER, MOORE, AND PITTENGER
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has exerted more influence on the women’s reports than
on the men’s.
Regardless of the factors involved, however, the
effect size for the gender difference is not particularly
large and certainly does not justify the claims that have
appeared not only in the popular press but also in some
professional literature regarding the size of this sex dif-
ference. The individual characteristic of erotophilia pre-
dicted frequency of sexual cognitions better than the
group difference of gender, perhaps because those with
a more negative emotional orientation toward sexuality
tend to try to avoid such thoughts (Byers, Purdon, &
Clark, 1998). In particular, women who were higher in
erotophilia may have been more comfortable recording
and reporting sexual cognitions than were those who
tended more toward erotophobia. It is surprising that
sociosexuality was not related to reports of sexual
thoughts for either sex, especially in light of the fact that
the revised SOI (Penke & Asendorpf, 2008) has a separ-
ate desire component.
The fact that the participants’ estimates of their sex-
ual cognitions were no more highly correlated with the
actual tally count than were estimates of food- or
sleep-related cognitions implies that soliciting retrospec-
tive reports of non-sexual need-related thoughts is just
as predictive as requesting a retrospective report of sex-
ual thoughts. This suggests that individuals have differ-
ent baseline levels of need-related cognitions, and those
who think more about sex also think more about food
and sleep.
Regardless of sex, there were huge individual differ-
ences in frequency of recorded cognitions, as seen in the
range of scores and the large standard deviations. For
both men and women, individual counts of cognitions ran-
ged from single digit weekly totals to reports in the thou-
sands. However, men were much more variable in their
tally counts of sexual cognitions (as well as other need-
related thoughts) than were women. Additional research
is required to explore this difference in variability and to
understand better why there was no difference in varia-
bility when participants provided retrospective reports.
The participants’ evaluation of their research experi-
ence indicated that the demands of the study were not
onerous, and that being asked to keep track of their
need-related thoughts via a tally counter was not an
unpleasant experience. The fact that 59% of the parti-
cipants reported learning something about themselves by
tracking their thoughts lends further credence to the idea
that a retrospective report is not the best methodology
to use. Numerous participants wrote comments about
the degree to which they were surprised by the outcome
of their week spent tracking their need-related cognitions.
Limitations and Future Directions
Generalizability of the results is limited due to the
college student sample, although this is the typical
sample used for many similar studies, thus forming an
important comparison group. The campus at which
the data were collected has an open admissions policy,
providing greater heterogeneity regarding academic
ability and background than is typical in many college
student samples.
It is unlikely that each participant actually kept track
of every single thought by means of the tally counter.
However, the very act of having to record a daily count
probably facilitated awareness of the frequency of
thoughts on a given topic, thus yielding a more accurate
estimate than those obtained in previous self-report stu-
dies. Indeed, although the correlation between estimated
sexual cognitions and those that were based on the daily
tallies was significant, it was not large enough to justify
relying on retroactive self-reports of this topic. For all
three types of cognitions, participants underestimated
the extent to which they thought about the topic com-
pared to the actual tally counts. Many participants did
report that the mere presence of the tally counter caused
them to think more about the topic to which they had
been assigned, in what was likely a classically con-
ditioned response. However, in this study our focus
was not on the absolute number of thoughts, but rather
on the sex ratio, which should have remained unaffected
by the presence of the tally counter.
Because of the smaller number of males than females
participating in the study (reflecting the sex ratio of the
campus), some of the conditions have a small number of
participants, leading to the need for caution in drawing
conclusions. Adding the three questions about estimated
need-related cognitions after data collection was under-
way was not ideal. This should not, however, have
impacted the findings (other than leading to a small n
in some cells) because analyses involving those questions
bypassed the participants who were not asked these
questions; hence there should not have been a confound.
This was deemed more efficient than either not asking
the question or than starting over.
Future research that distinguishes among various
types of sexual cognitions could well reveal a sex differ-
ence in the nature of the thoughts being reported, even if
the frequency of sexual cognitions is not as different
between women and men as has been previously
believed. For example, McCauley and Swann (1978)
reported that the sexual cognitions of men were more
likely based on real experiences, whereas those of
women were more fantasy-based, and Ellis and Symons
(1990) found that men’s sexual fantasies were more vis-
ual and impersonal. In light of the apparently later peak
in sexual interest for women rather than men (Barr,
Bryan, & Kenrick, 2002), research with older adults
using this methodology may well find fewer differences
than we found with the 18- to 25-year-olds who partici-
pated. Indeed, research suggests that middle-aged men
and women are more similar to one another with regard
to sexual fantasy than are late adolescents or young
FREQUENCY OF SEXUAL COGNITIONS
7
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adults (Easton, Confer, Goetz, & Buss, 2010; Wilson,
1997).
This study demonstrates that the sex difference in
sexual cognitions in college students is smaller than is
generally believed and is also present in non-sexual
need-related cognitions. In addition, the results make
it clear that there can be individual factors such as
erotophilia that are more powerful than biological sex
in determining frequency of sexual cognitions. The
pattern of results and the correlations with social desir-
ability responding also suggest that sex-role expectations
had an influence on the participants’ responses.
This study yielded data indicating that the median
daily tally count for men was less than 19 per day, which
is quite a bit less than the once every seven seconds (over
8,000 thoughts in 16 waking hours) that is often touted.
To better reflect reality, those cartoon drawings that
suggest that men’s minds are filled with nothing but
thoughts of sex need to be revised to include plenty of
space for thoughts pertaining to food, sleep, and,
presumably, a multitude of topics beyond the scope of
this study.
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Gender differences in sexuality have gained considerable attention both within and outside of the scientific community. We argue that one of the main unacknowledged reasons for these differences is simply that women experience substantially worse sex than men do. Thus, in examinations of the etiology of gender differences in sexuality, a confound has largely been unacknowledged: Women and men are treated to different experiences of what is called “sexuality” and “having sex.” We discuss four arenas in which women’s experience of sexuality may often be worse than men’s: (a) anatomical differences, (b) sexual violence, (c) stigma, and (d) masculine cultures of sexuality. Then we consider how each disparity might explain well-known gender differences in sexuality.
Book
Introduction to Psychological Science provides students with an accessible, comprehensive, and engaging overview of the field of scientific psychology. It expertly incorporates a variety of perspectives ranging from neuroscience to cultural perspectives at an introductory level. Ray brings together cutting-edge research from traditional psychological literature to modern, evolving perspectives, and creates a unified approach by focusing on three core themes: Behavior and Experience: an analysis of behavior and experiences observed across a variety of everyday life situations. Neuroscience: an examination of psychological experiences through neuroscience lens ranging from genetic/epigenetic to cortical networks as related to psychology. Evolutionary/Human Origins: an exploration of broader scientific questions by examining psychological processes from the perspective of human and cultural history. Through these themes, the book delves into topics like social processes, psychopathology, stress and health, motivation and emotion, developmental sequences, and cognitive functions such as memory, learning, problem solving, and language. Throughout it helps students to understand the nature of psychological science by addressing common myths and misconceptions in psychology, showing how psychological science can be applied to everyday life and how new Research can be created. Additionally, this student-friendly book is packed with pedagogical features, including "concept checks" to test reader knowledge, "extensions" features which show how to apply knowledge, and a comprehensive glossary. Reflecting the latest APA Guidelines concerning the essential elements of an introductory psychology course, this text is core reading for all undergraduate introductory psychology students.
Chapter
The brain has a very superior system, and there are some complex structures which are still undiscovered. The subconscious is one of these unclear features. The subconscious unconsciously places the stimuli in the environment into the mind with the help of sensory organs and processes these pieces of information accumulated there. It manages and directs behavior with images and messages. Although they are felt consciously, the center of emotions is actually subconscious. Thus, the individual involuntarily realizes her or his way of life, relationships with other people and many other factors thanks to her or his subconscious. Consumption behaviors are among these involuntary behaviors. Brand preference, brand loyalty, brand awareness, purchase intention and behavior are affected by these subliminal messages. Hence, companies have endeavored to place subliminal messages that are specially designed and coded below the perception limit into the subconscious of their targeted consumers by using five senses. They bring consumers together with the subliminal messages by preparing psychological, sociological and neurological sub-grounds that meet their needs, demands and expectations. With subliminal messages, the awareness level of the consumers is exceeded, and the codes related to the brand are created subconsciously. This enables consumers to choose the brand and develop their buying behavior. However, these messages, sent to the subconscious of consumers, also have things that do not overlap with ethical values. Individuals exposed to the messages of unacceptable products or services are adversely affected. The most important ethical problem is the role of subliminal messages. The ethical dimension has become controversial as it is possible to use the hidden fears and impulses that people have unconsciously by using them for different purposes from commercial areas, advertising and marketing. Therefore, the channels from which the subliminal messages come from and what techniques are used must be determined and precautions should be taken. One of the areas where subliminal messages are mostly used is the sports sector. Stadiums and crowded sport halls bring together millions of people and provide the appropriate ground for the companies to send real-time subliminal messages at the same time. Thus, sports have become a popular means of meeting companies’ subliminal messages with consumers. In this chapter; it is aimed to provide a theoretical contribution to the studies in this field by dealing with the subliminal messages sent to the subconscious of consumers, the methods and techniques used for this aim, the reasons why they are preferred by the companies, the ethical dimension of the subliminal messages and the effects of subliminal messages in the sports arena.
Research
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There have been several occasions where men involved in rape cases have told enforcers, the court, and even their victims that if it wasn't for how the woman is dressed, the crime would've not happened. Likewise, there have been occasions where judges and enforcers themselves called the attention of women to dress appropriately in public to avoid sexual assaults, however, this led to criticisms and campaigns involving women instilling their rights and freedom to wear whatever they like and highlighting that it is men who should be taught to respect and behave well. This study determined if man's behavior towards women gets affected by how they dress and if so, in what way their actions are affected by it. Through a survey and interview, the authors further found out the top reasons why women wear revealing clothes in public, and their belief towards men's response to it. Results show that men's behavior towards women really gets affected by how they dress, and it is affected in a way that men literally gets aroused when they see women wearing revealing clothes, moreover, it was found out that sexual objectification portrayed in films, advertisements, or anything published through media is a contributor to the objectification experienced by women in society. This study also shows that women strongly believe wearing provocative clothes can get the attention of men sexually and it is man's nature; in fact, this is what they tend to do if they would like to seduce a man or to just get their attention. These findings led to a conclusion that when women present themselves in a provocative dress in public, they are more likely to be seducing or sexually attracting men than any other reasons. In addition, though most rape victims are dressed with revealing clothes when they were raped, there are still a number of rape victims who are not dressed provocatively when the crime was committed. It is therefore concluded that rape and other related crimes can't be solved by just educating women how to dress appropriately, but it can minimize the number of incidents, thus give them lesser risk of becoming a victim. Recommendations include the passing of a decency law to regulate how people dress in public places and to stop the creation of films, advertisements, and other media platforms that portray sexual objectification.
Article
50 free online copies available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/B8IPFNWTJVIUZPWXTYA6/full?target=10.1080/01490400.2020.1714519 This special issue responds to the need to investigate the complex links between sex and leisure and their implications for research and practice. The focus is on analyzing the complexity of sex as leisure in various socio-cultural and geographical contexts while focusing on pressing sexual issues and vulnerable populations. The articles address the implementation of a positive sexuality framework for guiding leisure research; sexual play and sex toys based on consumer experience perspectives; using the leisure lens to analyze sex and pornography addiction; quadriplegic sexuality and leisure; rejection and resilience on a gay cruise; relational dynamics of aging, exploitation, and deceit in sex tourism; sexual harassment of solo female travelers; and the complexity of consent in the sexualized leisure space of a pornography expo. This issue will be of general interest to the audience interested in interdisciplinary scholarship as it critically broadens the bio-psycho-socio-cultural perspective of sex as leisure.
Article
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Despite the fact that some individuals appraise their sexual cognitions negatively and/or experience negative affect in association with their sexual fantasies, sexuality researchers have not differentiated between positively and negatively experienced sexual cognitions. As part of a larger study, we investigated the frequency, diversity, and content of positive and negative sexual cognitions. Two-hundred and ninety-two (148 women and 144 men) heterosexual undergraduate students completed a sexual cognition checklist requiring them to report the frequency with which they experienced each of 56 sexual cognitions as positive and as negative. Results revealed that overall, respondents reported more frequent and more diverse positive sexual cognitions than negative sexual cognitions. However, men reported both more frequent and more diverse positive and negative sexual cognitions than did women. Although there was a significant relationship between the contents of positive and negative sexual cognitions, the most commonly reported positive sexual cognitions differed from the most commonly reported negative sexual cognitions. Men and women also differed in the frequencies with which they reported specific positive and negative sexual cognitions. These results are discussed within the context of the utility of differentiating between positive and negative sexual cognitions.
Article
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Despite the fact that a substantial minority of individuals describe sexual thoughts that are perceived as unwanted and unacceptable, for the most part sexuality researchers have not differentiated sexual thoughts and fantasies that are perceived as positive by the respondent from those which are perceived as negative. At the same time, cognitive‐behavioral researchers investigating intrusive thoughts—that is, unwanted, sudden, and involuntary ego‐dystonic thoughts and obsessions—have not distinguished those reflecting sexual themes from those reflecting other themes. The purpose of this study was to examine sexual intrusive thoughts in a nonclinical population. One hundred seventy‐one college students participated in the study and were administered measures assessing intrusive thoughts, psychological distress, and disposition towards sexuality. Sexual intrusive thoughts were reported by 84% of participants. Compared to the women, the men reported a greater number of different sexual intrusive thoughts, and marginally more frequent sexual intrusions. In addition, the men reported more frequent sexual intrusive thoughts involving some active, aggressive themes and less frequent thoughts of being sexually victimized than did the women. Compared to the men, the women reported less sexual arousal in response to their most upsetting intrusive thought. Greater erotophilia, more frequent sexual daydreaming, and more frequent obsessive thoughts uniquely predicted the frequency of sexual intrusions. This indicates that sexual intrusive thoughts are not just a result of general psychopathology or psychological distress, but also have a large sexual component. Two patterns of experiencing sexual intrusions are delineated.
Article
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The sex drive refers to the strength of sexual motivation. Across many different studies and measures, men have been shown to have more frequent and more intense sexual desires than women, as reflected in spontaneous thoughts about sex, frequency and variety of sexual fantasies, desired frequency of intercourse, desired number of part - ners, masturbation, liking for various sexual practices, willingness to forego sex, initi - ating versus refusing sex, making sacrifices for sex, and other measures. No contrary findings (indicating stronger sexual motivation among women) were found. Hence we conclude that the male sex drive is stronger than the female sex drive. The gender dif - ference in sex drive should not be generalized to other constructs such as sexual or or - gasmic capacity, enjoyment of sex, or extrinsically motivated sex. If the world were designed for the primary goal of maximizing human happiness, the sexual tastes of men and women would match up very closely. What could be more ideal than perfect attunement with one's mate, so that both people feel sexual desire at the same times, to the same degrees, and in the same ways? Yet there is ample evidence that romantic partners are sometimes out of synchrony with each other's sexual wishes and feelings. The continuing market for sexual advice, sex therapy, couple counseling, and similar offerings is a testimony to the fact that many people are not perfectly satisfied with their sex lives even within committed re- lationships. Infidelity and divorce may also sometimes reflect sexual dissatisfaction. The focus of this article is on one potential source of
Article
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The nature and frequency of men's and women's sexual fantasies were investigated by surveying 307 students (182 females, 125 males) at a California state university or junior college via a paper‐and‐pencil questionnaire. The questionnnaire was inspired by modern evolutionary theory and was designed to investigate sex differences in sexual fantasies. Substantial sex differences were found in the salience of visual images, touching, context, personalization, emotion, partner variety, partner response, fantasizer response, and inward versus outward focus. These data, the scientific literature on sexual fantasy, the historically‐stable contrasts between male‐oriented pornography and female‐oriented romance novels, the ethnographic record of human sexuality, and the ineluctable implications of an evolutionary perspective on our species, taken together, imply the existence of profound sex differences in sexual psychologies.
Article
Contemporary research on sex differences in intellectual abilities has focused on male-female differences in average performance, implicitly assuming homogeneity of variance. To examine the validity of that assumption, this article examined sex differences in variability on the national norms of several standardized test batteries. Males were consistently more variable than females in quantitative reasoning, spatial visualization, spelling, and general knowledge. Because these sex differences in variability were coupled with corresponding sex differences in means, it was demonstrated that sex differences in variability and sex differences in central tendency have to be considered together to form correct conclusions about the magnitude of cognitive gender differences.
Article
Some individuals appraise their sexual cognitions negatively and/or experience negative affect in association with their sexual cognitions. However, sex researchers have tended to subsume different types of sexual cognitions under the term sexual fantasy and have assumed that these cognitions are positively experienced. The purpose of this study was to clarify past research on sexual‐cognitions by exploring the distinction between sexual cognitions that are perceived as positive by individuals and those that are perceived as negative. Two‐hundred and ninety‐two (148 women and 144 men) heterosexual undergraduate students completed a 56‐item positive and negative sexual cognition checklist along with measures of sexual adjustment. Results revealed that compared to negative sexual cognitions, positive sexual cognitions were associated with more positive affect, less negative affect, more frequent subjective general physiological and sexual arousal, and less frequent self‐reported upset stomach. In addition, positively experienced sexual cognitions were experienced as more deliberate and less intrusive, and were associated with less frequent attempts to control the thought, than were negative sexual cognitions. Further, while a higher frequency of positive sexual cognitions was related to better sexual adjustment for men and women, the frequency of negative sexual cognitions was not related to sexual maladjustment. Indeed, overall the results suggest that negative sexual cognitions have little to do with sexual adjustment. Together, these findings highlight the importance of distinguishing between positive and negative sexual cognitions in research.
Article
The idea that general intelligence may be more variable in males than in females has a long history. In recent years it has been presented as a reason that there is little, if any, mean sex difference in general intelligence, yet males tend to be overrepresented at both the top and bottom ends of its overall, presumably normal, distribution. Clear analysis of the actual distribution of general intelligence based on large and appropriately population-representative samples is rare, however. Using two population-wide surveys of general intelligence in 11-year-olds in Scotland, we showed that there were substantial departures from normality in the distribution, with less variability in the higher range than in the lower. Despite mean IQ-scale scores of 100, modal scores were about 105. Even above modal level, males showed more variability than females. This is consistent with a model of the population distribution of general intelligence as a mixture of two essentially normal distributions, one reflecting normal variation in general intelligence and one refecting normal variation in effects of genetic and environmental conditions involving mental retardation. Though present at the high end of the distribution, sex differences in variability did not appear to account for sex differences in high-level achievement. © 2008 Association for Psychological Science.