Brain responses to pictures of children in men with pedophilic disorder: a functional magnetic resonance imaging study

Eur Arch Psychiatry Clin Neurosci. 2019 Sep;269(6):713-729. doi: 10.1007/s00406-018-0933-z. Epub 2018 Aug 9.


Structural and functional neuroimaging techniques have recently been used to investigate the mechanisms of sexual attraction to children, a hallmark of pedophilic disorder, and have reported many contradictory or non-replicated findings. Here, our purpose was to identify through functional magnetic resonance imaging the brain responses of 25 male outpatients with pedophilic disorder to visual stimuli depicting children (VSc) and to compare them with 24 male healthy controls matched on sexual orientation (to female or male adults), age, and handedness. No region was differentially activated across the two groups in response to VSc. However, as shown by a random-effects statistical analysis (cluster-level pFWE-corrected < 0.05), in patients with pedophilia, but not in controls, the presentation of VSc induced a bilateral activation in the lateral occipital and temporal cortices, in particular in the right inferior temporal gyrus, as well as an activation in the declive of the cerebellar vermis. In addition, in patients the level of bilateral activation in the above-mentioned regions was positively correlated with ratings of perceived sexual arousal elicited by VSc. These results implicate these regions as possible candidate areas mediating sexual arousal in patients with pedophilic disorder.

Keywords: Cerebellar declive; Functional magnetic resonance imaging; Occipital cortex; Pedophilic disorder; Temporal cortex; Visual sexual stimuli.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuroimaging
  • Pedophilia / diagnostic imaging*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Sexual Behavior*
  • Young Adult