Neuropsychological Impairment Among Sexual Offenders with Pedophilic Disorder

Emilie Healey Picard, Fordham University


Pedophilic disorder (PD) is one of the strongest predictors of sexual recidivism but its etiology is not known. Although brain differences were demonstrated in imaging studies, but no consistent patterns have emerged and how differences may translate to cognitive functioning remain unclear. Few neuropsychological studies exist on men with PD, and no study has focused on child sexual abuse material (CSAM) offenders specifically. This study sought to address this gap in literature by conducting a neuropsychological battery on a sample of 58 sexual offenders including contact offenses against an adult (n=19), contact offenses against a child (n=14), non-contact sexual offenses (n=5), and possession of CSAM (n=20). Twenty men were classified as having PD. Multiple cognitive domains were tested, including intellectual functioning, executive functioning, attention, processing speed, learning and memory, visuospatial ability, and language. Effort measures were included. Across domains, contact offenders were compared to CSAM offenders, and men with PD were compared to men without PD. No differences were seen in test performance between men with PD and men without PD, except on verbal memory. On verbal memory, men with PD disorder performed significantly better than those without. Effect sizes in this comparison group were generally small, ranging from very small (semantic fluency, d=0.06) to medium/large (verbal memory, d=0.70). When comparing adult and child contact offenders to CSAM offenders, both groups of contact offenders performed significantly worse than CSAM offenders on FSIQ, working memory, perceptual reasoning, verbal comprehension, and visuospatial learning and memory. Visuospatial learning in contact offenders was borderline impaired compared to the normative population. Adult contact offenders performed significantly worse than CSAM offenders on verbal learning and memory. No differences were seen in executive functioning, processing speed, attention, or semantic fluency. Effect sizes were large overall, ranging from small (semantic fluency, η2=0.01) to large (perceptual reasoning, η2=0.35). A pattern of neuropsychological impairments specific to CSAM offenders was not demonstrated. In sum, impairments related to PD were not demonstrated, but differences were seen when comparing contact versus non-contact offenders. Verbal and visuospatial learning and memory impairments seen in contact offenders was a particularly interesting finding and should be a target of future research.

Subject Area

Psychology|Neurosciences|Cognitive psychology|Criminology

Recommended Citation

Picard, Emilie Healey, "Neuropsychological Impairment Among Sexual Offenders with Pedophilic Disorder" (2020). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI28026834.