Excitation Transfer and Sexual Attraction

Excitation transfer theory posits that residual excitement from a previous arousing stimulus or situation may serve to intensify a later emotional state. For over three decades, excitation transfer theory has been empirically applied to the domain of sexual arousal and attraction. We (Meston & Frohlich, 2003) conducted the first study to investigate this phenomenon in both men and women with and without a salient dating partner using a real life situation to increase autonomic arousal (riding a roller coaster). We approached participants at amusement parks as they were either waiting to begin a roller coaster ride, or as they had just gotten off of a roller coaster ride. They were shown a photograph of an average attractive, opposite-gendered individual and asked to rate the individual on attractiveness and dating desirability. They were also asked to rate their seatmates’ level of attractiveness. The findings were consistent with predictions of excitation transfer theory among persons who did not have a romantic partner present.

Recommended paper:

Meston, C. M., & Frohlich, P. F. (2003). Love at first fright: Partner salience moderates roller-coaster-induced excitation transfer. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 32(6), 537-544. (PDF 293 KB)