Study Links Abnormal Brain Development with Pedophilia
> 11/29/2007 11:35:40 AM

Research has already shown that abnormal brain development may contribute to the development of pedophilia, and a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Toronto's Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) adds to our understanding of this disorder. The researchers used MRIs to examine the brains of pedophiles as well as the brains of people without the disorder, and their results provide further evidence of the connection between brain development and pedophilia.

The researchers compared the brain scans of 124 participants: half were convicted sex offenders and half had been convicted of nonsexual crimes. The scans revealed that pedophiles had significantly less white matter, a substance that connects the various regions of the brain. The researchers speculate that an unusually low amount of white matter may indicate differences in the way the brain responds to sexual stimuli and could predispose an individual for pedophilia. In a press release, Dr. James Cantor, who led the study, stresses that these findings do not excuse pedophiles for any criminal activities: "Not being able to choose your sexual interests doesnít mean you canít choose what you do."

These findings add to the results of other studies which have implicated biological factors in the development of pedophilia. A study published in the September edition of Biological Psychiatry demonstrated possible neurological differences in pedophiles. Using fMRI scans, researchers observed that pedophiles had diminished activity in the hypothalamus, which helps control physiological arousal, while viewing erotic pictures of adults. Still, it is difficult to determine whether or not this pattern of activation actually leads to pedophilia or develops because of it. While differences in brain activity could predispose a person for pedophilia, they could also be the result of previous sexual experiences.

Another study, which was published in the October edition of Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment and also headed by Dr. Cantor, discovered another biological difference associated with pedophilia. The study's results show that pedophiles tend to be 0.8 inches shorter than people without pedophilia, and while this may seem like a tiny amount, it is a statistically significant difference. Problems before birth and during early childhood, including illness, poor nutrition, and exposure to toxins, can contribute to deficient growth and affect how the brain develops. Previous studies conducted by Dr. Cantor have found even more evidence that pedophiles differ from others in terms of their development. Pedophiles tend to have lower IQs and are three times more likely to be ambidextrous or left-handed. A low IQ score is associated with criminal behavior in general, especially impulsive crimes, and this may factor into whether or not a pedophile acts on his urges. Of course, studies of criminals and pedophiles involve individuals who have been already been caught, and this may also explain why they tend to have lower IQs.

Researchers have long cited physical or sexual abuse in childhood as a primary cause of pedophilia, but these studies clearly indicate that other factors are probably involved. Dr. Cantor believes that a child's environment can influence brain development. Environments where children are more likely to experience abuse may also lack the conditions that foster optimal development. It is also possible that experiencing abuse as a child can alter a child's brain development. With so many potential factors at work, it may be impossible to pinpoint the exact causes in a specific case of pedophilia.

More research is needed to better understand the brain's involvement in sexual attraction, especially as pedophilia is a difficult condition to treat. With more information on what factors contribute to pedophilia, we will hopefully develop more effective forms of therapy in the future.

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