The empirical evidence for this is getting there but still somewhat thin. There’s a hilarious reason for that — researchers can’t find enough men who haven’t watched porn in order to form a comparison group! However, there’s some mileage to the idea and it warrants further study.
Wilson’s premise is one that I discussed previously in the Tugging the Human Instinct post from a while back. Actually the same reasoning can be applied to much that’s fucked up about modern life (and points to the solutions too). It goes like this:
Our culture has evolved far more quickly than our biology. We’re no longer living in the environment that we’re most suited for. Parts of our brain are wired to respond to certain things that were beneficial to our survival and replication. Our culture now rewards people (monetarily) if they can find ways to activate these areas with superstimuli, which tend to come with negative side effects. Pornography, particularly online pornography, is one such superstimulus.
To be more specific, we’re adapted for life in 100-150 strong tribes, who would occasionally come into contact with other similarly sized wandering tribes (this is where our instincts towards in-group out-group behaviour stems from, be it my sports team is better than yours, my marital art is more effective than yours, my religion is the true one, and so on). I don’t know how many tribes you’d bump into as a hunter-gatherer, but given a life expectancy of around 30 and excluding women below breeding age, you’d probably see no more than a few thousand women, and only maybe 60 or so on a regular basis.
If you go to a porn site, you can see 60 women of above-average attractiveness in a few minutes. This overloads your brain in a sense, tricking it into thinking you’re part of the hottest tribe ever!
And if you get bored of one woman, you can load another up in a second. This level of novelty is also a superstimulus. It’s this combination of availability and instant novelty that creates the dependence and the psychological issues.
There’s a little more to it that that neurologically, but that’s the gist of it. If you’re interested in learning more, check out Wilson’s TED talk, conveniently located right here:
It’s ironic that he did a TED talk, since if there’s such a thing as “Information Porn,” that site is its biggest pimp!