Idiopathic and acquired pedophilia as two distinct disorders: an insight from neuroimaging

Brain Imaging Behav. 2021 Oct;15(5):2681-2692. doi: 10.1007/s11682-020-00442-z. Epub 2021 Jan 28.


Pedophilia is a disorder of public concern because of its association with child sexual offense and recidivism. Previous neuroimaging studies of potential brain abnormalities underlying pedophilic behavior, either in idiopathic or acquired (i.e., emerging following brain damages) pedophilia, led to inconsistent results. This study sought to explore the neural underpinnings of pedophilic behavior and to determine the extent to which brain alterations may be related to distinct psychopathological features in pedophilia. To this aim, we run a coordinate based meta-analysis on previously published papers reporting whole brain analysis and a lesion network analysis, using brain lesions as seeds in a resting state connectivity analysis. The behavioral profiling approach was applied to link identified regions with the corresponding psychological processes. While no consistent neuroanatomical alterations were identified in idiopathic pedophilia, the current results support that all the lesions causing acquired pedophilia are localized within a shared resting state network that included posterior midlines structures, right inferior temporal gyrus and bilateral orbitofrontal cortex. These regions are associated with action inhibition and social cognition, abilities that are consistently and severely impaired in acquired pedophiles. This study suggests that idiopathic and acquired pedophilia may be two distinct disorders, in line with their distinctive clinical features, including age of onset, reversibility and modus operandi. Understanding the neurobiological underpinnings of pedophilic behavior may contribute to a more comprehensive characterization of these individuals on a clinical ground, a pivotal step forward for the development of more efficient therapeutic rehabilitation strategies.

Keywords: Acquired pedophilia; Behavioral profiling; Coordinate based meta‐analysis; Idiopathic pedophilia; Lesion network analysis; Neuroimaging.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Child
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Neuroimaging
  • Pedophilia* / diagnostic imaging
  • Sex Offenses*