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Web Topic 16.1: Anxiety and Erectile Dysfunction

[Referenced on textbook p. 525]

Researchers at the State University of New York at Albany (Cranston-Cuebas et al., 1993) showed erotic videos to both normal and sexually dysfunctional men while monitoring their arousal by penile plethysmography. When they increased the men’s anxiety (by the threat of electric shocks, or by administering a pill that was described as preventing erection), the penile responses of the dysfunctional men were lessened, but the penile responses of the normal men were actually enhanced (see Figure 1). In other words, a certain amount of anxiety can actually increase arousal in normal men, but it depresses the arousal of sexually dysfunctional men.

Figure 1  Anxiety has opposite effects on arousal in normal men and in men with erectile dysfunction. (A) Normal heterosexual men’s penile responses to an erotic video after taking a pill described as an inert placebo or a pill described as lessening erection. The “anti-erection pill” (actually the same inert pill as the placebo) substantially increased the men’s erectile responses. (B) The same experiment in heterosexual men with erectile dysfunction. The “anti-erection pill” depressed the men’s erectile responses (Cranston-Cuebas et al., 1993).


Cranston-Cuebas, M. A., Barlow, D. H., Mitchell, W. & Athanasiou, R. (1993). Differential effects of a misattribution manipulation on sexually functional and dysfunctional men. Journal of Abnormal Psychology 102: 525–533.