Do Child Molesters Have Aberrant Perceptions of Adult Female Facial Attractiveness?1


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    This research was supported by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice under a research agreement. Points of view are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Portions of this research were presented ay the 109th annual convention of the American Psychological Association, San Francisco, California, August 2001. We wish to thank Darryl Johnson, Sarah Lehman, Tam Tomicic, and Michelle Guyton for their assistance with data collection; and Dana DeHart for her assistance with obtaining photographs and with data collection. We also thank Judy Johnson, Simon Beardsley, and Warden Dessie Cherry of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for their assistance. Rowland Miller provided helpful comments on an earlier draft.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to David K. Marcus, Department of Psychology, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, TX 77341-2447. E-mail:


The multiple fitness model (Cunningham, 1986) suggests that attractive adult faces combine youthful neonate features with indications of sexual maturity. But a question can be raised whether the multiple fitness model applies to child molesters. In contrast to prior studies that examined child molesters’ attraction to children, we examined child molesters’ perceptions of adult women. Incarcerated child molesters (N= 68) rated the attractiveness of photographs of 24 adult women. Their ratings were compared with ratings made by 30 heterosexual college men. The 2 groups displayed remarkably similar judgments (r= .91). Child molesters were not more attracted to neonate features compared to other men, nor were they more repelled by maturity features. Like the college men, the child molesters were attracted to faces with large eyes and high cheekbones. Because the multiple fitness model applied to child molesters, differences between the sexual behavior of child molesters and other men do not seem to be attributable to differences in their perceptions of potential adult female partners’ faces.