No fooling; visual appeal is not determined by what we see


Background: Its role in guiding behavior determines the utility of sensory information, but recent results show that visual input is not directly responsible for guiding behaviors associated with classification of differences between animate and inanimate objects (Mahon, Anzellotti, Schwarzbach, Zampini, & Caramazza, 2009).  Researchers who claim that visual input has greater incentive salience than olfactory/pheromonal input could help others understand the development of human sexual behavior if they would only tell us what model they are using for their determination of relative salience.

Evidence: Despite their social and biological relevance, no animal model supports any conclusion from cognitive neuroscience that suggests the perception of people is based on brain mechanisms specifically devoted to processing any class of visual information (see for review Hari & Kujala, 2009). In contrast, all animal models support the conclusion that the processing of olfactory/pheromonal information is both socially and biologically the most relevant class of stimuli (Kohl, 2012). This fact begs the question of why any face or body response to visual input from human conspecifics is enhanced by nudity (Hietanen & Nummenmaa, 2011). Indeed, the social brain network evolves perfectly fine in the absence of vision (Bedny, Pascual-Leone, & Saxe, 2009).

Context: Sexual behavior in unclothed mammals is preceded by social behaviors important for food acquisition, which allows all species to establish their ecological and social niche. In this context, what do brain imaging results linked to sexual responses, or more specifically to paraphilias, tell us about behavioral development in people? Is there a model for that (Karremans, Frankenhuis, & Arons, 2010)?


Bedny, M., Pascual-Leone, A., & Saxe, R. R. (2009). Growing up blind does not change the neural bases of Theory of Mind. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A., 106(27), 11312-11317.

Hari, R., & Kujala, M. V. (2009). Brain Basis of Human Social Interaction: From Concepts to Brain Imaging. Physiological Reviews, 89(2), 453-479.

Hietanen, J. K., & Nummenmaa, L. (2011). The Naked Truth: The Face and Body Sensitive N170 Response Is Enhanced for Nude Bodies. PLoS ONE, 6(11), e24408.

Karremans, J. C., Frankenhuis, W. E., & Arons, S. (2010). Blind men prefer a low waist-to-hip ratio. Evolution and Human Behavior, 31(3), 182-186.

Kohl, J. V. (2012). Human pheromones and food odors: epigenetic influences on the socioaffective nature of evolved behaviors. Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology, 2(Accessed March 15, 2012),

Mahon, B. Z., Anzellotti, S., Schwarzbach, J., Zampini, M., & Caramazza, A. (2009). Category-Specific Organization in the Human Brain Does Not Require Visual Experience. Neuron, 63(3), 397-405.


Author: James Kohl

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