Cognitive distortions in sex offenders: an integrative review

Clin Psychol Rev. 1997;17(5):479-507. doi: 10.1016/s0272-7358(97)81034-3.


Clinicians and researchers have noted that maladaptive beliefs and distorted thinking play an important role in facilitating or justifying sexual offenses. There have been a number of attempts to describe the nature of these beliefs and to develop ways of measuring them, but in the absence of any integrating theory. We suggest that an understanding of the cognitive processes underlying the initiation, maintenance, and justification of sexual offending is a vital prerequisite to the development of successful treatment programs. In this paper, we use a social cognition framework to review the literature on the role of cognition in sexual offending. Pertinent research in the sexual offending domain, specifically cognitive products, information processing, cognitive change, and the impact of affective and motivational factors on cognitive processes, is described and related to the social cognitive approach. Implications for future research and clinical practice are discussed in light of the major issues and problems highlighted in our review.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect
  • Child
  • Cognition Disorders / psychology*
  • Defense Mechanisms
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motivation
  • Perceptual Distortion*
  • Sex Offenses / psychology*