Skip to main content Accessibility help

Neurocognitive differences between pedophilic and nonpedophilic child molesters



Although some evidence exists that child molesters may be characterized by structural and functional brain abnormalities, findings across studies are inconsistent. Past cognitive research in this area has been extensively criticized for relying on conceptually weak batteries, measures of questionable reliability, and poorly defined samples (i.e., failing to distinguish between pedophilic and nonpedophilic child molesters). The present study aimed to address the weaknesses of past research by comparing 40 child molesters (20 pedophilic and 20 nonpedophilic) and 20 demographically matched nonoffender controls on six well-defined neurocognitive composite scores of comparable reliability (i.e., semantic knowledge, executive functioning, processing speed, motor speed, auditory memory, and visual memory). Results indicated that pedophilic child molesters exhibit slower processing speed, nonpedophilic child molesters exhibit poorer semantic knowledge, and both molester groups exhibit executive weaknesses as compared to nonoffender controls. This study is the first to compare the two molester types on neurocognitive functions. The observed differences between the molester groups help explain inconsistencies in past research and demonstrate the need to distinguish between the two types of child molesters when studying neurobiologic underpinnings of sexual offending. (JINS, 2009, 15, 248–257.)


Corresponding author

*Correspondence and reprint requests to: Yana Suchy, Department of Psychology, University of Utah, 380 S. 1580 E., Room 502, Salt Lake City, Utah 84112. E-mail:


Hide All
Abel, G.G. & Osborn, C. (1992). The paraphilias: The extent and nature of sexually deviant and criminal behavior. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 15(3), 675687.
Abracen, J., O’ Carroll, R., & Ladha, N. (1991). Neuropsychological dysfunction in sex offenders? Journal of Forensic Psychiatry 2, 167177.
Anckarsater, H. (2006). Central nervous changes in social dysfunction: Autism, aggression, and psychopathy. Brain Research Bulletin, 69(3), 259265.
Baird, A.D., Wilson, S.J., Bladin, P.F., Saling, M.M., & Reutens, D.C. (2002). Hypersexuality after temporal lobe resection. Epilepsy & Behavior, 3(2), 173181.
Bergeron, T.K. & Valliant, P.M. (2001). Executive function and personality in adolescent and adult offenders vs. non-offenders. Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, 33(3), 2745.
Birbaumer, N., Veit, R., Lotze, M., Erb, M., Hermann, C., Grodd, W., & Flor, H. (2005). Deficient fear conditioning in psychopathy: A functional magnetic resonance imaging study. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62(7), 799805.
Blanchard, R., Cantor, J.M., & Robichaud, L.K. (2006). Biological factors in the development of sexual deviance and aggression in males. In Barbaree, H.E. & Marshall, W.L. (Eds.), The juvenile sex offender (77104). New York: The Guilford Press.
Blanchard, R., Christensen, B.K., Strong, S.M., Cantor, J.M., Kuban, M.E., & Klassen, P.E. (2002). Retrospective self-reports of childhood accidents causing unconsciousness in phallometrically diagnosed pedophiles. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 31(6), 511526.
Blanchard, R., Kolla, N., Cantor, J.M., Klassen, P.E., Dickey, R., Kuban, M.E., & Blak, T. (2007). IQ, handedness, and pedophilia in adult male patients stratified by referral source. Sex Abuse, 19, 285309.
Blanchard, R., Kuban, M.E., Klassen, P.E., Dickey, R., Christensen, B.K., & Cantor, J.M. (2003). Self-reported head injuries before and after age 13 in pedophilic and non-pedophilic men referred for clinical assessment. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 32(6), 573581.
Bogaert, A.F. (2001). Handedness, criminality, and sexual offending. Neuropsychologia, 39, 465469.
Brower, M.C. & Price, B.H. (2001). Neuropsychiatry of frontal lobe dysfunction in violent and criminal behaviour: A critical review. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, 71(6), 720726.
Burns, J.M. & Swedlow, R.H. (2003). Right orbitofrontal tumor with pedophilia and constructional apraxia. Archives of Neurology, 60, 437440.
Cantor, J.M., Kabani, N., Christensen, B.K., Zipursky, R.B., Barbaree, H.E., Dickey, R., Klassen, P.E., Mikulis, D.J., Kuban, M.E., Blak, T., Richards, B.A., Hanratty, M.K., & Blanchard, R. (2008). Cerebral white matter deficiencies in pedophilic men. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 42, 167183.
Cantor, J.M., Kuban, M.E., Blak, T., Klassen, P.E., Dickey, R., & Blanchard, R. (2006). Grade failure and special education placement in sexual offenders’ educational histories. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 35, 743751.
Chapman, L.J. & Chapman, J.P. (1987). The measurement of handedness. Brain and Cognition, 6, 175183.
Cohen, L.J. & Galynker, I.I. (2002). Clinical features of pedophilia and implications for treatment. Journal of Psychiatric Practice, 8(5), 276289.
Cohen, L.J., Nikigforov, K., Gans, S., Poznansky, O., McGeoch, P., & Weaver, C. (2002). Heterosexual male perpetrators of childhood sexual abuse: A preliminary neuropsychiatric model. Psychiatric Quarterly, 73, 313336.
Dolan, M., Deakin, W.J.F., Roberts, N., & Anderson, I. (2002). Serotonergic and cognitive impairment in impulsive aggressive personality disordered offenders: Are there implications for treatment? Psychological Medicine, 32(1), 105117.
Finkel, D. & McGue, M. (2007). Genetic and environmental influences on intraindividual variability in reaction time. Experimental Aging Research, 33(1), 1335.
Flor-Henry, P. (1987). Cerebral aspects of sexual deviations. In Wilson, G.D. (Ed.), Varian sexuality: Research and theory (49–83). Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press.
Flor-Henry, P., Lang, R.A., Koles, Z.J., & Frenzel, R.R. (1991). Quantitative EEG studies of pedophilia. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 10(3), 253258.
Golden, C.J. & Freshwater, S.M. (1998). Stroop Color and Word Test: A manual for clinical and experimental uses. Wood Dale, IL: Stoelting Co.
Gorey, K.M. & Leslie, D.R. (1997). The prevalence of child sexual abuse: Integrative review adjustment for potential response and measurement biases. Child Abuse & Neglect, 21(4), 391398.
Grigsby, J., Kaye, K., & Robbins, L.J. (1992). Reliabilities, norms and factor structure of the Behavioral Dyscontrol Scale. Perceptual & Motor Skills, 74(3, Pt 1), 883892.
Guay, J.P., Proulx, J., Cusson, M., & Ouimet, M. (1921). Victim choice polymorphia among serious sex offenders. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 30, 521533.
Hendricks, S.E., Fitzpatrick, D.F., Hartmann, K., Quaife, M.A., Stratbucker, R.A., & Graber, B. (1988). Brain structure and function in sexual molesters of children and adolescents. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 49(3), 108112.
Hollingshead, A.A. (1975). Four factor index of social status. Unpublished manuscript.
Hucker, S., Langevin, R., Wortzman, G., & Bain, J. (1986). Neuropsychological impairment in pedophiles. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, 18(4), 440448.
Joyal, C.C., Black, D.N., & Dassylva, B. (2007). The neuropsychology and neurology of sexual deviance: A review and pilot study. Sex Abuse, 19, 155173.
Kluver, H. & Bucy, P.C. (1939). Preliminary analysis of functions of the temporal lobes in monkeys. Archives of Neurology and Psychiatry, 42, 9791000.
Lang, R.A. (1993). Neuropsychological deficits in sexual offenders: Implications for treatment. Sexual and Marita Therapy, 8(2), 181200.
Langevin, R., Wortzman, G., Wright, P., & Handy, L. (1989). Studies of brain damage and dysfunction in sex offenders. Annals of Sex Research, 2(2), 163179.
Lapierre, D., Braun, C.M.J., & Hodgins, S. (1995). Ventral frontal deficits in psychopathy: Neuropsychological test findings. Neuropsychologia, 33(2), 139151.
Leahy, B., Suchy, Y., Sweet, J.J., & Lam, C.S. (2003). Behavioral Dyscontrol Scale deficits among traumatic brain injury patients, part I: Validation with nongeriatric patients. Clinical Neuropsychologist, 17(4), 474491.
Leech, S.L., Day, N.L., Richardson, G.A., & Goldschmidt, L. (2003). Predictors of self-reported delinquent behavior in a sample of young adolescents. Journal of Early Adolescence, 23, 78106.
Lezak, M.D., Howieson, D.B., & Loring, D.W. (2004). Neuropsychological assessment. New York:Oxford University Press.
Maddocks, D. & Saling, M. (1996). Neuropsychological deficits following concussion. Brain Injury, 10(2), 99103.
Maller, J.L., Sommer, M., Wagner, V., Lange, K., Taschler, H., Rader, C.H., Schuierer, G., Klein, H.E., & Hajak, G. (2003). Abnormalities in emotion processing within cortical and subcortical regions in criminal psychopaths: Evidence from a functional magnetic resonance imaging study using pictures with emotional content. Biological Psychiatry, 54(2), 152162.
Mann, R.E. & Hollin, C.R. (2007). Sexual offender’s explanations for their offending. Journal of Sexual Aggression, 13(1), 39.
Markwardt, F.C. (1997). Peabody Individual Achievement Test—Revised. Circle Pines, MN: American Guidance Service.
Marshall, W.L., Seerran, G.S., & Cortoni, F.A. (2000). Childhood attachments, sexual abuse, and their relationship to adult coping in child molesters. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, 12, 1726.
Mendez, M.F., Chow, T., Ringman, J., Twitchell, G., & Hinkin, C.H. (2000). Pedophilia and temporal lobe disturbances. Journal of Neuropsychiatry & Clinical Neurosciences, 12(1), 7176.
Miller, E. (1999). The neuropsychology of offending. Psychology, Crime & Law, 5(4), 297318.
O’Connor, T.A. & Burns, N.R. (2003). Inspection time and general speed of processing. Personality and Individual Differences, 35(3), 713724.
Ozmen, M., Erdogan, A., Duvenci, S., Ozyurt, E., & Ozkara, C. (2004). Excessive masturbation after epilepsy surgery. Epilepsy & Behavior, 5(1), 133136.
Pallone, N.J. & Voelbel, G.T. (1998). Limbic system dysfunction and inventoried psychopathology among incarcerated pedophiles. Current Psychology, 17, 5774.
PsyCor. (1997). WAIS-III & WMS-III Technical Manual. San Antonio, TX: The Psychological Corporation.
Rahman, Q. & Symeonides, D.J. (2008). Neurodevelopmental correlates of paraphilic sexual interests. Archives of sexual Behavior, 37, 166172.
Ruff, R. (1988). Ruff Figural Fluency Test: Administration manual. San Diego, CA: Neuropsychological Resources.
Schiffer, B., Peschel, T., Gizewski, E., Forsting, M., Leygraf, N., Schedlowski, M., & Krueger, T.H.C. (2007). Structural brain abnormalities in the frontostriatal systems and cerebellum in pedophilia. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 41(9), 753762.
Schiltz, K., Witzel, J., Northoff, G., Zierhut, K., Gubka, U., Fellmann, H., Kaufmann, J., Tempelmann, C., Wiebking, C., & Bogerts, B. (2007). Brain pathology in pedophilic offenders: Evidence of volume reduction in the right amygdala and related diencephalic structures. Archives of General Psychiatry, 64(6), 737746.
Seto, M.C. (2008). Pedophilia and sexual offending against children: Theory, assessment, and intervention. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Seto, M.C., Harris, G.T., Rice, M.E., & Barbaree, H.E. (2004). The Screening Scale for Pedophilic Interests predicts recidivism among adult sex offenders with child victims. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 33(5), 455466.
Seto, M.C. & Lalumiere, M.L. (2001). A brief screening scale to identify pedophilic interests among child molesters. Sexual Abuse: Journal of Research and Treatment, 13(1), 1525.
Sheppard, L.D. & Vernon, P.A. (2008). Intelligence and speed of information-processing: A review of 50 years of research. Personality and Individual Differences, 44(3), 535551.
Simonen, R.L., Videman, T., Battie, M.C., & Gibbons, L.E. (1998). Determinants of psychomotor speed among 61 pairs of adult male monozygotic twins. Journals of Gerontology: Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, 53A(3), M228M234.
Stattin, H. & Magnussen, D. (1995). Onset of official delinquency: Its co-occurrence in time with educational, behavioral, and interpersonal problems. British Journal of Criminology, 35, 417449.
Stone, M.H. & Thompson, E.H. (2001). Executive function impairment in sexual offenders. Journal of Individual Psychology, 57(1), 5159.
Suchy, Y., Blint, A., & Osmon, D.S. (1997). Behavioral Dyscontrol Scale: Criterion and predictive validity in an inpatient rehabilitation unit population. Clinical Neuropsychologist, 11(3), 258265.
Suchy, Y., Derbidge, C., & Cope, C. (2005). Behavioral Dyscontrol Scale—electronic version: First examination of reliability, validity, and incremental utility. Clinical Neuropsychologist, 19(1), 426.
Suchy, Y., Leahy, B., Sweet, J.J., & Lam, C.S. (2003). Behavioral Dyscontrol Scale deficits among traumatic brain injury patients, part II: Comparison to other measures of executive functioning. Clinical Neuropsychologist, 17(4), 492506.
Suchy, Y., Whittaker, W.J., Strassberg, D., & Eastvold, A. (in press). Facial and prosodic affect recognition among pedophilic and non-pedophilic criminal child molesters. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment.
Wright, P., Nobrega, J., Langevin, R., & Wortzman, G. (1990). Brain density and symmetry in pedophilic and sexually aggressive offenders. Annals of Sex Research, 3(3), 319328.
Zachary, R.A. (1986). Shipley Institute of Living Scale: Revised Manual. Los Angeles, CA: Eastern Psychological Services.



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed