Scientists have used fMRI scans to help unveil some of the psychology behind pedophilia. In doing so, they managed to discover some of the neural dysfunctions that are common in certain types of pedophilia, as well as uncover why some pedophiles actively abuse children while others don’t commit child sexual offenses.
Their study was recently published in the journal Human Brain Mapping.
Clinical psychologists from the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany studied 40 men who had abused children, 37 men who admitted sexual attraction towards prepubertal children but without a history of sexually offending children, and 40 control subjects. While under the gaze of an fMRI scanner, they were asked to carry out a simple test called a "go/no-go task", in which stimuli were presented to study the participants' reaction times, decision-making skills, and alertness.
The difference was shown to lie in their inhibition abilities.
Notably, they found that “pedophiles in general are not likely to be more impulsive than controls.” Instead, pedophiles without a history of child sexual abuse appeared to have increased self-control abilities. This non-offending group of participants showed dramatically more brain activity in the brain regions associated with inhibition-related behavior.
Dr Christian Kaergel, study author, says that the research shows that pedophiles who have never abused a child are fundamentally different to those who have in most cases. Therefore, he suggests we should attempt to treat them differently in psychiatric treatment and rehabilitation.
“In the community, pedophilia is often equated with child molestation but it is evident that pedophilia is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition to engage in child sexual offending,” said Dr Kaergel, according to the Independent. “This means that not all individuals with a diagnosis of pedophilia commit child sexual offenses, just as many persons who sexually offend against children are not pedophilic. Our finding of differences in the neuroimaging profile during the assessment of a response-inhibition task underlines the importance to distinguish between paedophilic hands-on offenders and those who have not sexually offended against children in terms of separate clinical entities."