Hey, Don Jon. That porn you “casually” “enjoy” “watching,” according to Cambridge University scientists, is actually an addiction that provokes a response in your brain similar to that of drugs and alcohol. “We found [significant] activity in the brain’s ventral striatum, which processes reward, motivation, and pleasure,” says Valerie Voon, Ph.D., author of the study, part of a U.K. TV documentary titled Porn and the Brain.
Porn may have a surprising psychological side effect: sexism. After analyzing data about participants’ porn-viewing habits and their views on women’s rights (taken from the 2006–2010 General Social Survey), researchers at Indiana University found that while you’re conducting “research” of your own, some harmful social ideals may be rubbing off on you. “Some viewers infer general principles for social behavior from porn,” which may then “reduce some viewers’ support for affirmative action for women,” says study author Paul J. Wright, Ph.D.
To become a better people person, try hitting the highbrow books. A New School of Social Research study showed that participants’ Theory of Mind (ToM)—that is, their understanding of other people’s mental states and desires—greatly improved when they read literary fiction.
And, sorry, we don’t mean über-popular Fifty Shades of Grey–type fiction. We mean top-tier, prize-worthy books, from authors like Anton Chekhov and Alice Munro (both of whose works were included in the study). In literary fiction, says study author Emanuele Castano, Ph.D., “the author shows you what the character is doing and gives you some motivations and thoughts; but most of the work you have to do as a reader, constructing the character as you go.” If you slept through college, we’re here to help.