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"Long before it's in the papers"
June 11, 2015

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Pedophilia may be innate, study suggests

June 10, 2015
Courtesy of Springer Journals
and World Science staff

Pe­dophilia may de­vel­op in the womb, ac­cord­ing to the au­thors of a new stu­dy.

The work found that pe­dophiles are more likely to have certain types of su­per­fi­cial fa­cial flaws, known as mi­nor phys­i­cal anoma­lies, and to be left-hand­ed.

This adds to a grow­ing body of ev­i­dence that sug­gests pe­dophilia de­vel­ops around the same time that such phys­i­cal traits do—in the womb, said study lead­er Fi­o­na Dysh­niku of the Uni­vers­ity of Wind­sor in Can­a­da.

The find­ings are pub­lished in the jour­nal Ar­chives of Sex­u­al Be­hav­ior. 

“Ev­i­dence is steadily ac­cu­mu­lating to sup­port a neurode­vel­opmental ba­sis of pe­dophilia,” said Dysh­niku. “If we find that pe­dophilia has a bi­o­log­i­cal ba­sis, with a very ear­ly, even pre­na­tal on­set, this will in­flu­ence and hope­fully im­prove meth­ods of treat­ment for this group.”

Fa­cial anoma­lies could, among oth­ers, in­clude hav­ing non-detached ear­lobes, mal­formed ears, or a high or “s­teepled” pal­ate, she said. 

These fea­tures de­vel­op dur­ing the sen­si­tive first and early sec­ond trimesters while a ba­by is still in the womb, she ex­plained. They come from the same lay­er of em­bry­on­ic tis­sue, the “pri­ma­ry,” that gives rise to the cen­tral nerv­ous sys­tem, in­clud­ing the brain. Such anoma­lies could de­vel­op be­cause of pre­na­tal ex­po­sure to vi­rus­es, al­co­hol or drugs, ob­stet­ric com­plica­t­ions, or nu­tri­tional de­fi­cien­cies, she added.

Such fea­tures are more prev­a­lent among men, she con­tin­ued, which might mean that the male brain is more sus­cep­ti­ble to such dis­rup­tive events.

“For years, it was thought that child mo­lesta­t­ion was some­what of a learn­ed be­hav­ior, po­ten­tially from the abusers hav­ing been sex­u­ally abused them­selves as chil­dren. While this may be a fac­tor in some cases, this is not the case in those with gen­u­ine pe­dophilia,” said Ra­chel Fazio, a clin­i­cal neu­ropsy­chol­ogist and co-author of the stu­dy.

The re­search­ers said they stud­ied 140 con­sent­ing par­ti­ci­pants who had been re­ferred to the Kurt Fre­und Lab­o­r­a­to­ry of the Cen­tre for Ad­dic­tion and Men­tal Health in To­ron­to to be as­sessed for dis­tress­ing or il­le­gal sex­u­al be­hav­ior. 

The rou­tine sex­o­log­i­cal as­sess­ment included a fo­ren­sic and med­i­cal file re­view and a semi-structured in­ter­view span­ning of­fense and sex­u­al histo­ry. It al­so in­volved a “phal­lo­met­ric” test—which as­sesses erot­ic pref­er­ences by meas­ures changes in pe­nis size in re­sponse to pic­tures and sounds.


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Pedophilia may develop in the womb, according to the authors of a new study. The investigation found that pedophiles are more likely to have superficial facial flaws, known as “Minor Physical Anomalies,” and are more likely to be left-handed. This adds to a growing body of evidence that suggests pedophilia develops around the same time that such physical flaws develop, in the womb, said study leader Fiona Dyshniku of the University of Windsor in Canada. The findings are published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior “Evidence is steadily accumulating to support a neurodevelopmental basis of pedophilia,” said Dyshniku. “If we find that pedophilia has a biological basis, with a very early, even prenatal onset, this will influence and hopefully improve methods of treatment for this group.” Facial anomalies could, among others, include having non-detached earlobes, malformed ears, or a high or “steepled” palate, she said. These features develop during the sensitive first and early second trimesters while a baby is still in the womb, she explained. They come from the same layer of embryonic tissue, the “primary,” that gives rise to the central nervous system, including the brain. Such anomalies could develop because of prenatal exposure to viruses, alcohol or drugs, obstetric complications, or nutritional deficiencies, she added. Such features are more prevalent among men, she continued, which might mean that the male brain is more susceptible to such disruptive events. “For years, it was thought that child molestation was somewhat of a learned behavior, potentially from the abusers having been sexually abused themselves as children. While this may be a factor in some cases, this is not the case in those with genuine pedophilia,” said said Rachel Fazio, clinical neuropsychologist and co-author of the study. The researchers said they studied 140 consenting participants who had been referred to the Kurt Freund Laboratory of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto to be assessed for distressing or illegal sexual behavior. The routine sexological assessment consisted of a forensic and medical file review, a semi-structured interview spanning offense and sexual history. It also involved a “phallometric” test—which assesses erotic preferences by measures changes in penis size in response to pictures and sounds.