Executive Dysfunctions in Pedophilic and Nonpedophilic Child Molesters


Boris Schiffer, PhD, Institute of Forensic Psychiatry, University of Duisburg-Essen, Virchowstr. 174, Essen 45147, Germany. Tel: +49-201-7227-102; Fax: +49-201-7227-105; E-mail: boris.schiffer@uni-due.de


Introduction.  There is some evidence that child molesters show neuropsychological abnormalities which might reflect specific structural and/or functional brain alterations, but there are also inconsistencies in the existing findings which need to be clarified. Most of the different outcomes can either be explained by the fact that different types of child molesters were examined or by not having accounted for basically confounding factors such as age, education/intelligence, or criminality.

Aim.  The present study therefore sought to determine whether pedophilic and nonpedophilic child molesters, compared to relevant control groups, show different profiles of executive dysfunction when accounting for potentially confounding factors.

Methods.  The performance of 30 child molesters (15 pedophilic and 15 nonpedophilic) and 33 age- and education-matched controls (16 nonsexual offenders and 17 healthy controls) was assessed regarding several neuropsychological functions.

Main Outcome Measures.  Scores on different neurocognitive tests and semistructured diagnostical interviews.

Results.  Results indicate that pedophilic child molesters exhibited less performance deficits in cognitive functioning than nonpedophilic child molesters. Compared to healthy controls and nonsexual offenders, the pedophilic child molesters only showed executive dysfunction concerning response inhibition, whereas the nonpedophilic child molesters revealed more severe dysfunction, especially on tasks associated with cognitive flexibility and verbal memory.

Conclusions.  These results enhance our knowledge about executive dysfunction associated with criminality and/or pedophilia, as they suggest different profiles of impairment between groups. In summary, data suggest that nonpedophilic child molesters showed more severe cognitive deficits than pedophilic child molesters. However, as response inhibition is associated with prefrontal (i.e., orbitofrontal) functioning, the deficits observed in both child molester groups indicate dysfunction in the orbitofrontal cortex. This has to be further examined with functional imaging approaches in larger samples and a full-factorial approach which allows for a clear distinction between criminality and pedophilia in a factorial manner. Schiffer B and Vonlaufen C. Executive dysfunctions in pedophilic and nonpedophilic child molesters. J Sex Med 2011;8:1975–1984.