Study Finds Pedophiles’ Brains Wired to Find Children Attractive

Pedophiles’ brains are “abnormally tuned” to find young children attractive, according to a new study published this week. The research, led by Jorge Ponseti at Germany’s University of Kiel, means that it may be possible to diagnose pedophiles in the future before they are able to offend.

The findings, published in scientific journal Biology Letters, discovered that pedophiles have the same neurological reaction to images of those they find attractive as those of people with ordinary sexual predilections, but that all the relevant cerebral areas become engaged when they see children, as opposed to fellow adults. The occipital areas, prefrontal cortex, putamen, and nucleus caudatus become engaged whenever a person finds another attractive, but the subject of this desire is inverted for pedophiles.

While studies into the cognitive wiring of sex offenders have long been a source of debate, this latest research offers some fairly conclusive proof that there is a neural pattern behind their behavior.

The paper explains: “The human brain contains networks that are tuned to face processing, and these networks appear to activate different processing streams of the reproductive domain selectively: nurturing processing in the case of child faces and sexual processing in the case of sexually preferred adult faces. This implies that the brain extracts age-related face cues of the preferred sex that inform appropriate response selection in the reproductive domains: nurturing in the case of child faces and mating in the case of adult faces.”

Usually children’s faces elicit feelings of caregiving from both sexes, whereas those of adults provide stimuli in choosing a mate. But among pedophiles, this trend is skewed, with sexual, as opposed to nurturing, emotions burgeoning.

The study analyzed the MRI scans of 56 male participants, a group that included 13 homosexual pedophiles and 11 heterosexual pedophiles, exposing them to “high arousing” images of men, women, boys, and girls. Participants then ranked each photo for attractiveness, leading researchers to their conclusion that the brain network of pedophiles is activated by sexual immaturity.

The critical new finding is that face processing is also tuned to face cues revealing the developmental stage that is sexually preferred,” the paper reads.

Dr. James Cantor, associate professor at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine, said he was “delighted” by the study’s results. “I have previously described pedophilia as a ‘cross-wiring’ of sexual and nurturing instincts, and this data neatly verifies that interpretation.”

Cantor has undertaken extensive research into the area, previously finding that pedophiles are more likely to be left-handed, 2.3 cm shorter than the average male, and 10 to 15 IQ points lower than the norm.

He continued: “This [new] study is definitely a step in the right direction, and I hope other researchers repeat this kind of work. There still exist many contradictions among scientists’ observations, especially in identifying exactly which areas of the brain are the most central to pedophilia. Because financial support for these kinds of studies is quite small, these studies have been quite small, permitting them to achieve only incremental progress. Truly definitive studies about what in the brain causes pedophilia, what might detect it, and what might prevent it require much more significant support.”

Ponseti said that he hoped to investigate this area further by examining whether findings could be emulated when images of children’s faces are the sole ones used. This could lead to gauging a person’s predisposition to pedophilia far more simply than any means currently in place. “We could start to look at the onset of pedophilia, which is probably in puberty at about 12 or 14 years [old],” he told The Independent.

While Cantor is correct in citing the less than abundant size of the study, the research is certainly significant in providing scope for future practicable testing that could reduce the number of pedophilic crimes committed. By being able to run these tests and examine a person’s tendency toward being sexually attracted to underage children, rehabilitative care and necessary precautions could be taken to safeguard children and ensure that those at risk of committing a crime of this ilk would not be able to do so.

Death of an un-loved one


The obituary for Marianne Theresa Johnson-Reddick that appeared in the Reno Gazette-Journal on September 10 started in typical fashion: She was born on January 4, 1935 and died on August 30, 2013. But the announcement, written by two of her adult children, quickly took a grim turn.

While most death notices include a short, factual and sometimes cheery biography of the deceased, this one included a laundry list of Johnson-Reddick’s alleged parental failings and character flaws.

“She is survived by her 6 of 8 children whom she spent her lifetime torturing in every way possible,” the obituary read. “While she neglected and abused her small children, she refused to allow anyone else to care or show compassion towards them.”

The obit was submitted via the paper’s self-service online portal, according to publisher John Maher, and it quickly went viral. Patrick and Katherine Reddick co-wrote the scathing remembrance, and Patrick has gone on to tell publications he sang the Wizard of Oz’s “Ding-Dong! The Witch is Dead” when he learned of his mother’s passing.

The cemetery isn’t always an easy place to bury the hatchet, especially when survivors remember the deceased in an adversarial light. What do “My condolences” or “I’m sorry for your loss” mean to a person who is thinking “Good riddance”? And how do resentful survivors avoid speaking ill of the dead?

Grief experts say people affected by the death of a less-than-loved one often have much more unfinished emotional business, and that business starts with forgiveness of a sort.

The Reddick siblings claimed in the obituary that their motive was “to stimulate a national movement” against child abuse in the United States. “Her surviving children will now live the rest of their lives with the peace of knowing their nightmare finally has some form of closure,” they wrote.

Russell Friedman, executive director of the Grief Recovery Institute, said even the death of a toxic person can’t bring the closure the Reddick siblings mention when grief is unresolved.

“Grieving people tend to create larger-than-life pictures in which they enshrine or bedevil the person who died,” he said.

Friedman says rehashing tough memories in an obituary like Johnson-Reddick’s keeps survivors mired in pain and grief.

“When they’re telling the story of their pain, there’s no recovery. Where is the completion,” he asked. “They’re just confirming the pain that’s built in; the pain becomes their identity. The pain is not freedom; it’s jail.”

Some survivors of heinous abuse agree that holding onto hatred for the dead and publicly shaming them will not close the book on a lifetime of hurt.

Becky Blanton knows what unresolved grief feels like. Her essay detailing alleged physical and sexual abuse at the hands of her father, titled “The Monster,” appeared in the late journalist Tim Russert’s final book “Wisdom of Our Fathers” and outlines how she came to terms with his abuse while he was on his death bed.

Blanton said the only way to overcome pain caused by an instrumental figure in one’s life is to forgive, but the definition of that word is often misunderstood.

Both Blanton and Friedman said forgiveness is about relieving oneself of resentment.

“Forgiveness isn’t about saying, ‘It’s OK,’ or that you ‘accept’ or ‘approve’ what happened,” Blanton said. “Forgiveness is the acknowledgment that what happened, happened, and that you are now ready to set down the baggage, the pain and the fear.”

“There simply is no other way,” Friedman agreed.

Blanton finds that when a person forgives they no longer take action based on feelings of revenge, anger or fear, but instead make decisions based on their own character.

“If I consider myself a good person, a generous person, but then act meanly or selfishly because someone has treated me that way, then I allow their actions to determine my character and my actions,” Blanton said.

Mothers of sex offenders share responsibility, burden of label

Friedman said that without taking the proper steps to grieve and let go, pain can become part of one’s identity.

“(Retribution) does no virtue for you. It will create the illusion that you’ve done something valuable for yourself,” Friedman said.

Resolving that pain comes down to a key phrase: “I remember the time that you did this, and I’m not going to let the memory of that event hurt me anymore.”

There are ways to describe a person of dubious character after death without blasting them in an obit, according to Andrew Meacham, the chief epilogue writer for the Tampa Bay Times.

“Just as people aren’t saintly, they aren’t completely villainous,” he said.

“You don’t have to make somebody out to be a villain, just tell the facts and people can read between the lines,” Meacham explained.

Just as he says he avoids writing biographies in which that person “never met a stranger,” had a “smile that lit up a room” and the rest of those hanky clichés that come out when somebody dies, he also avoids the opposite.

“Had I written (the Johnson-Reddick obit) as a news story, I would want to talk to somebody who knew their mom,” he said. “Not necessarily to sanitize it, but she was a human being after all.”

Meanwhile, trying to console a person who has experienced a loss is tricky — especially if the relationship was contentious. Above all, Friedman recommends being mindful of the words you use.

“I’m sorry for your loss” doesn’t work, Friedman said. “‘I’m sorry’ is a dangerous line if you didn’t know the person who died.”

Friedman suggests instead using open-ended phrases like: “I don’t even know what to say. I can’t imagine what this has been like for you.” Turn the statement into more of a question, giving the person an opening to tell you the truth if they feel up to it.

Blanton agrees.

“‘I’m sorry for your loss,’ doesn’t cut it when a person is a monster,” Blanton said. “Having someone say, ‘I’m so sorry for what he did to you. I wish someone had been there for you’ does wonders.”

Blanton sees where the Reddicks were coming from. They are trying to be heard because they might not have been able to express anger as children (or were too scared to), she said, and they’re doing the best they can with the tools they have.

Her response: “We hear you.”

Many researchers taking a different view of pedophilia


Despite a stable home life in suburban Chicago, Paul Christiano was tortured by urges he knew could land him in prison. In 1999, he was caught buying child pornography. Now 36, he said he has never molested a child, but after five years of state-ordered therapy, the attraction remains. (Alex Garcia, Chicago Tribune / December 14, 2012)

As a young boy, Paul Christiano loved the world of girls — the way they danced, how their spindly bodies tumbled in gymnastics.

In adolescence, as other boys ogled classmates, he was troubled to find himself fantasizing about 7- to 11-year-olds.

His desires remained stuck in time as he neared adulthood. Despite a stable home life in suburban Chicago, he was tortured by urges he knew could land him in prison.

“For having these feelings, I was destined to become a monster,” he said. “I was terrified.”

In 1999, Christiano was caught buying child pornography. Now 36, he said he has never molested a child, but after five years of state-ordered therapy, the attraction remains.

“These people felt they could snuff out the desire, or shame me into denying it existed,” he said. “But it’s as intrinsic as the next person’s heterosexuality.”

In the laboratory, researchers are coming to the same conclusion.

Like many forms of sexual deviance, pedophilia once was thought to stem from psychological influences early in life. Now, many experts view it as a sexual orientation as immutable as heterosexuality or homosexuality. It is a deep-rooted predisposition — limited almost entirely to men — that becomes clear during puberty and does not change.

The best estimates are that between 1% and 5% of men are pedophiles, meaning that they have a dominant attraction to prepubescent children.

Not all pedophiles molest children. Nor are all child molesters pedophiles. Studies show that about half of all molesters are not sexually attracted to their victims. They often have personality disorders or violent streaks, and their victims are typically family members.

By contrast, pedophiles tend to think of children as romantic partners and look beyond immediate relatives. They include chronic abusers familiar from the headlines — Catholic priests, coaches and generations of Boy Scout leaders.

Other pedophiles are “good people who are struggling,” said Dr. Fred Berlin, a psychiatrist who heads the Johns Hopkins Sexual Behaviors Consultation Unit. “They’re tortured souls fighting like heck not to do this. We do virtually nothing in terms of reaching out to these folks. We drive it underground.”

Some of the new understanding of pedophilia comes from studies done on convicted sex criminals at the Center for Mental Health and Addiction in Toronto, where researchers use a procedure known as phallometry to identify men whose peak attraction is to children.

A man sits alone in a room viewing a series of images and listening to descriptions of various sexual acts with adults and children, male and female, while wearing a device that monitors blood flow to his penis.

Like men attracted to adults, nearly all pedophiles respond most strongly to one gender or the other — females far more often than males.

In searching for causes of pedophilia, researchers have largely dismissed the popular belief that abuse in childhood plays an important role. Studies show that few victims grow up to be abusers, and only about a third of offenders say they were molested.

Scientists at the Toronto center have uncovered a series of associations that suggest pedophilia has biological roots.

Among the most compelling findings is that 30% of pedophiles are left-handed or ambidextrous, triple the general rate. Because hand dominance is established through some combination of genetics and the environment of the womb, scientists see that association as a powerful indicator that something is different about pedophiles at birth.

“The only explanation is a physiological one,” said James Cantor, a leader of the research.

Researchers have also determined that pedophiles are nearly an inch shorter on average than non-pedophiles and lag behind the average IQ by 10 points — discoveries that are consistent with developmental problems, whether before birth or in childhood.

In a 2008 study, Cantor’s team conducted MRI brain scans on 65 pedophiles. Compared with men with criminal histories but no sex offenses, they had less white matter, the connective circuitry of the brain.

The evidence also points to what Cantor explained as “cross wiring”: Seeing a child sets off the same neural response that men typically experience around an attractive woman.

More evidence of brain involvement comes from scattered examples of men with brain tumors or neurological diseases affecting inhibition.

In one case, a 40-year-old teacher in Virginia with no history of sexual deviance suddenly became interested in child pornography and was arrested for molesting his prepubescent stepdaughter.

The night before his sentencing, he showed up at an emergency room with a bad headache. An MRI revealed a tumor compressing his brain’s right frontal lobe.

When the tumor was removed, his obsession faded, according to Dr. Russell Swerdlow, a neurologist on the case. A year later he again became sexually fixated on children. The tumor was growing back.

Swerdlow and others said the case suggests that the man’s attraction to children may have always been present — the tumor simply took away the man’s ability to control it.

Strong impulse control may help explain why some pedophiles never break the law.

Most clinicians have given up on changing the sexual orientation of pedophiles in favor of teaching the how to resist their unacceptable desires.

Experts believe that pedophiles who also have a significant attraction to adults stand the best chance of staying out of trouble, because of their capacity for some sexual fulfillment that is legal. For others, injections of hormones to reduce sex drive are often recommended.

Most pedophiles, however, don’t receive any attention until they’ve been arrested.

In an attempt to change that, sex researchers in Germany launched an unusual media campaign in 2005.

“You are not guilty because of your sexual desire, but you are responsible for your sexual behavior,” said billboards urging them to contact the Institute of Sexology and Sexual Medicine in Berlin. “There is help! Don’t become an offender!”

More than 1,700 men have responded to the print, television and online ads for Project Dunkelfeld — literally “dark field.” As of August, 80 had completed a one-year program aimed at teaching them to control their impulses. Some received hormone shots. Compared to men still on the waiting list, those who received treatment were deemed less likely to molest children, according to an analysis of risk factors.

The German researchers promise patients confidentiality. About half of those assessed admitted to having already molested a child.

Though extolled by many researchers, the same program could not be conducted in the United States or many other countries, where clinicians and others are required by law to notify authorities if they suspect a child has been or could be harmed.

There have been some grass-roots efforts to bring pedophilia out of the shadows. Anton Schweighofer, a psychologist in British Columbia, said he recently referred one of his patients to Virtuous Pedophiles, an online support group for men who have never acted on their desires and want to keep it that way.

“I just don’t want to get myself in trouble,” said the man, a factory worker who spoke on the condition that he not be identified. “I really don’t want to harm anybody.”

For many pedophiles, a fundamental part of life will always be a shameful secret.

In his late teens, Christiano taught gymnastics and supervised hundreds of young girls. He fasted at work to distract himself from his erotic feelings.

“My hand never slipped,” he said. “There were students I loved and adored. In a perfect world, I could sweep them off their feet and live happily ever after.”

In this world, however, he has tried to commit suicide three times, he said.

In 1999, he stepped into a federal sting operation when he ordered pornography. He avoided prison but was permanently added to the Illinois sex offender registry.

Once lauded in the Chicago press for his promise as a dance choreographer, Christiano now lives off unemployment, help from his parents and low-paying jobs. He has lost apartments and jobs because of his felony.

“PEDO PIECE OF GARBAGE,” read one of many emails he received after an activist group posted a notice about his case online.

His mother, Jennifer Christiano, said that as far back as she could remember, he had always been different from other boys — an odd and creative soul who loved to perform and seemed to worship his female classmates.

“I can’t tell you how hard it is,” she said. “He’s my only child. He’ll never truly be happy. He’ll never have someone he can truly love and who can love him back.”,0,197689.story?page=1&track=lat-pick

Thanks to Dr. Lutter for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

How childhood neglect affects the brain


Science is painting a dramatic picture of how childhood neglect damages developing brains, so stunting them that neglect might be likened to physically violent abuse.

The latest addition to this research narrative comes from a study of mice placed in isolation early in their lives, an experiment that, on its surface, might seem redundant: After all, we already know that neglect is bad for humans, much less mice.

But they key to the study is in the details. The researchers found striking abnormalities in tissues that transmit electrical messages across the brain, suggesting a specific mechanism for some of the dysfunctions seen in neglected human children.

“This is very strong evidence that changes in myelin cause some of the behavioral problems caused by isolation,” said neurologist Gabriel Corfas of Harvard Medical School, a co-author of the new study, released Sept. 13 in Science.


Corfas and his team, led by fellow Harvard Med neuroscientist Manabu Makinodan, put 21-day-old mice in isolation for two weeks, then returned them to their colonies. When the mice reached adolescence, the researchers compared their brains and behavior to mice who hadn’t been isolated.

The isolated mice were antisocial, with striking deficits in memory. Their myelin, a cell layer that forms around neuronal networks like insulation around wires, was unusually thin, especially in the prefrontal cortex, a brain region central to cognition and personality.

Similar patterns of behavior have been seen, again and again, in children raised in orphanages or neglected by parents, as have changes to a variety of brain regions, including the prefrontal cortex. The myelin deficiencies identified by Corfas and Makinodan may underlie these defects.


“This is incredibly important data, because it gives us the neural mechanisms associated with the deleterious changes in the brain” that arise from neglect, said Nathan Fox, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Maryland.

Fox was not involved in the new study, but is part of a research group working on a long-term study of childhood neglect that is scientifically striking and poignantly tragic. Led by Harvard Medical School pediatricians Charles Nelson and Margaret Sheridan, the project has tracked for the last 12 years children who started their lives in an orphanage in Bucharest, Romania, a country infamous for the spartan, impersonal conditions of its orphanages.

Among children who spent their first two years in the orphanage, the researchers observed high levels developmental problems, cognitive deficits, mental illness, and significant reductions in brain size. When the researchers measured the sheer amount of electrical activity generated by the brains of children who’d been isolated as toddlers, “it was like you’d had a rheostat, a dimmer, and dimmed down the amount of energy in these institutionalized children,” said Fox.

These problems persisted even when toddlers were later adopted, suggesting a crucial importance for those early years in setting a life’s neurological trajectory. “There’s a sensitive period for which, if a child is taken out of an institution, the effects appear to be remediated, and after which remediation is very, very difficult,” Fox said. The same pattern was observed in Corfas and Makinodan’s mice.

One phenomenon not studied in the mice, but regularly found in people neglected as children, are problems with stress: mood disorders, anxiety, and general dysfunction in a body’s stress responses.

Those mechanisms have been studied in another animal, the rhesus monkey. While deprivation studies on non-human primates — and in particular chimpanzees — are controversial, the results from the monkey studies have been instructive.

Early-life isolation sets off a flood of hormones that permanently warp their responses to stress, leaving them anxious and prone to violent swings in mood.

Isolation is so damaging because humans, especially as infants, literally depend on social stimulation to shape their minds, said psychologist John Cacioppo of the University of Chicago.

“Human social processes were once thought to have been incidental to learning and cognition,” Cacioppo wrote in an e-mail. “However, we now think that the complexities and demands of social species have contributed to the evolution of the brain and nervous system and to various aspects of cognition.”

Corfas and Makinodan’s team linked specific genetic changes to the abnormalities in their mice, and hope they might someday inform the development of drugs that can help reverse isolation’s effects.

A more immediate implication of the research is social. As evidence of neglect’s severe, long-term consequences accumulates, it could shape the way people think not just of orphanages, but policy matters like maternity and paternity leave, or the work requirements of single parents on welfare.

“What this work certainly says is that the first years of life are crucially important for brain architecture,” Fox said. “Infants and young children have to grow up in an environment of social relationships, and experiencing those is critical for healthy cognitive, social and psychological development. As a society, we should be figuring out how to encourage all that to happen.”

Thanks to Kebmobee for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.