Functional brain correlates of heterosexual paedophilia

Neuroimage. 2008 May 15;41(1):80-91. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2008.02.008. Epub 2008 Feb 20.


Although the neuronal mechanisms underlying normal sexual motivation and function have recently been examined, the alterations in brain function in deviant sexual behaviours such as paedophilia are largely unknown. The objective of this study was to identify paedophilia-specific functional networks implicated in sexual arousal. Therefore a consecutive sample of eight paedophile forensic inpatients, exclusively attracted to females, and 12 healthy age-matched heterosexual control participants from a comparable socioeconomic stratum participated in a visual sexual stimulation procedure during functional magnetic resonance imaging. The visual stimuli were sexually stimulating photographs and emotionally neutral photographs. Immediately after the imaging session subjective responses pertaining to sexual desire were recorded. Principally, the brain response of heterosexual paedophiles to heteropaedophilic stimuli was comparable to that of heterosexual males to heterosexual stimuli, including different limbic structures (amygdala, cingulate gyrus, and hippocampus), the substantia nigra, caudate nucleus, as well as the anterior cingulate cortex, different thalamic nuclei, and associative cortices. However, responses to visual sexual stimulation were found in the orbitofrontal cortex in healthy heterosexual males, but not in paedophiles, in whom abnormal activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex was observed. Thus, in line with clinical observations and neuropsychological studies, it seems that central processing of sexual stimuli in heterosexual paedophiles may be altered by a disturbance in the prefrontal networks, which, as has already been hypothesized, may be associated with stimulus-controlled behaviours, such as sexual compulsive behaviours. Moreover, these findings may suggest a dysfunction (in the functional and effective connectivity) at the cognitive stage of sexual arousal processing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiopathology
  • Child
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Crime
  • Female
  • Heterosexuality / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Intelligence Tests
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Neural Pathways / physiopathology
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Pedophilia / physiopathology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiopathology
  • Psychological Tests
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology