Understanding the Brains of Pedophiles

Target audience: High Intelligent Readers

        Those of at least 16 years old who possess continual sexual fantasies towards children below the age of 13, with a gap of 5 years in age, shall be termed as pedophiles. The younger the abused child, the lower the intelligence of the offender – it is proven by Blanchard et al (1999) in which pedophiles intelligence quotients are lower than average by 8 percent points compared to the normal population. The invention of brain imaging equipment has further allowed psychologists to find out the brain abnormalities of the pedophiles. Like many other psychiatric disorders, pedophiles too show different wiring in their brains as more scientific evidence emerge.  However, it does not help in determining the causes of this disorder.

        There are many types of pedophilia but commonly, males occupy larger percentage than females as pedophiles, the data collected regarding pedophiles consist of mainly convicted criminals, and usually pedophiles are diagnosed when the crime comes to light. In fact, there are pedophiles who have not acted to their sexual urges and desires. Kargel et al (2017) found that the “inhibition-related activation” of two areas of the brain, the left posterior cingulate and the left superior frontal cortex of pedophiles who have never acted on their urges are heightened, after running MRI scans on 40 child abusers, 37 admitted pedophiles who did not commit any crime against children and 40 healthy controls. In other words, pedophiles who have better impulse control will be able to better avoid committing crime against children although the desires still exist.

        In the brain of pedophiles, they show abnormal reactions to faces of children. Usually, normal men who are attracted to adults will have notable activation in a few parts of the brain when they are shown with adult faces instead of child faces. In contrast, the occipital areas, the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, the putamen and nucleus caudatus of pedophiles were significantly more active when they were shown pictures of child faces than when they were displayed with adult faces (Choi, 2014). The areas affected are responsible to respond to both faces and sexual behaviour.

        Schiffer (2008) noted the differences in the frontal and central regions of the pedophiles’ brains in which the volume of grey brain matter in the central striatum is smaller which also directly affects the nucleus accumbens, orbital frontal cortex, and the cerebellum. The affected regions are responsible for our addictive behaviour in which the accumbens acts as mediator of reward signalling and expectation whereas the striatum and orbital frontal cortex control this reward system. Consequently, this “contributes to the aetiology of pedophilia because a reward deficiency complication disturbs the neurotransmission of dopamine involved in compulsive and addictive behaviours” (Cochran & Cole, 2010, para. 11).

        The latest study done by Ponseti et al (2018) revealed that the left anterior insular cortex of pedophilic men displays elevated activity when viewing images of young animals. Ponseti and his team suspected a possible over-activity of the nurturing system in male pedophiles. Thus, they explored the pedophilic men brain responses to the pictures of young adult animals (unrelated to sexuality) using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to confirm if the cuteness of the young animals will lead to the activation of the nurturing system. Although pedophilic men gave similar subjective perception of these pictures compared to that of a healthy group control, but the MRI scans exhibited increased activity in left anterior insula cortex, which is, for instance, normally activated when mothers look at their own child (Ponseti et al., 2018). Thus, the research team came to conclusion that pedophilia could be linked to a malfunction of the male nurturing system.

pedophilia-cat-brain-scan-neurosceincneewsFigure 2. Looking at young animals compared to adult animals triggers increased activity in different areas of the brain in male pedophiles (yellow areas), whereas the activity is comparatively weaker in control subjects. The yellow arrow points to the relative activity in the left anterior insula cortex. This area of the brain is usually activated when mothers look at their own child. Image is credited to Dr Jorge Ponseti. (Source: Neuroscience News)

        With all evidences provided above, it is undeniable that pedophile has different wiring in their brains compared to the normal population. However, it is crucial for everyone to realize that not every pedophile abuses children and become a criminal.



Blanchard, R., Watson, M. S., Choy, A., Dickey, R., Klassen, P., Kuban, M., & Ferren, D. J. (1999). Pedophiles: Mental retardation, maternal age, and sexual orientation. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 28(2), 111-127.

Choi, C. Q. (2014). Pedophiles’ brains show abnormal reaction to kids’ faces. Retrieved from https://www.livescience.com/45811-pedophiles-brains-scanned.html

Cochran, M., Cole, M. (2010, May 10). Inside the mind of a pedophile. Retrieved from https://neuroanthropology.net/2010/05/10/inside-the-mind-of-a-pedophile/

Kärgel, C., Massau, C., Weiß, S., Walter, M., Borchardt, V., Krueger, T. H., … & Gerwinn, H. (2017). Evidence for superior neurobiological and behavioral inhibitory control abilities in non‐offending as compared to offending pedophiles. Human brain mapping, 38(2), 1092-1104.

Ponseti, J., Bruhn, D., Nolting, J., Gerwinn, H., Pohl, A., Stirn, A., … & Jansen, O. (2018). Decoding pedophilia: increased anterior insula response to infant animal pictures. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 11, 645.

Schiffer, B., Krueger, T., Paul, T., de Greiff, A., Forsting, M., Leygraf, N., … & Gizewski, E. (2008). Brain response to visual sexual stimuli in homosexual pedophiles. Journal of psychiatry & neuroscience: JPN, 33(1), 23.


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