Assessing paedophilia based on the haemodynamic brain response to face images

World J Biol Psychiatry. 2016;17(1):39-46. doi: 10.3109/15622975.2015.1083612. Epub 2015 Oct 9.


Objectives: Objective assessment of sexual preferences may be of relevance in the treatment and prognosis of child sexual offenders. Previous research has indicated that this can be achieved by pattern classification of brain responses to sexual child and adult images. Our recent research showed that human face processing is tuned to sexual age preferences. This observation prompted us to test whether paedophilia can be inferred based on the haemodynamic brain responses to adult and child faces.

Methods: Twenty-four men sexually attracted to prepubescent boys or girls (paedophiles) and 32 men sexually attracted to men or women (teleiophiles) were exposed to images of child and adult, male and female faces during a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) session.

Results: A cross-validated, automatic pattern classification algorithm of brain responses to facial stimuli yielded four misclassified participants (three false positives), corresponding to a specificity of 91% and a sensitivity of 95%.

Conclusions: These results indicate that the functional response to facial stimuli can be reliably used for fMRI-based classification of paedophilia, bypassing the problem of showing child sexual stimuli to paedophiles.

Keywords: child sexual offending; fMRI; paedophilia; paraphilia; pattern classification.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Child
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / diagnosis*
  • Facial Recognition*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neurovascular Coupling*
  • Pedophilia / diagnosis*
  • Young Adult