NeMUP research initiative

Neural mechanisms underlying pedophilia and sexual offending against children:
origins, assessment, and therapies


Engaging in child sexual abuse is a deviant sexual behavior of a subpopulation of adult men that can lead to long-standing distress in its victims. Some of these child sex abusers are pedophilic, i.e., they report an ongoing sexual attraction towards children. Currently it is unknown why these men sexually abuse children. The penetrance and stability of sexual preference and/or abusive behavior strongly suggests that there must be differences in psychological functioning that are realized in the brain. Recent scientific studies provide evidence that child sex abusers have aberrant brain functions, as well as altered brain structure, which may contribute to sexually offending children. This research collaboration aims to investigate these neurobiological aberrations systematically across a large group of patients with modern tools of cognitive neuroscience (e.g. brain imaging techniques and genetics). We assume that a genetic predisposition and developmental events and experiences lead to brain alterations underlying this sexual preference and/or (repeat) offending. Neurobiology research, as proposed here, is a prerequisite for possible development of new and sufficiently reliable tools for the clinical diagnosis of pedophilic sexual preferences. Furthermore, we want to combine the neurobiological data with treatment outcome in order to improve treatment options. We feel that a detailed knowledge of child sex abusers’ and pedophiles’ brain functioning may one day help us to predict who will benefit from treatment, how to improve treatment strategies, and how to minimize recidivism.
The collaboration has brought together experienced researchers in the fields of neurobiology and treatment of sexual deviances and experts in neuroimaging and genetics. The combination of a common trunk (common experiments across all sites) and site specific experiments will enable large sample investigations and a diversity of in-depth insights of specific functions.


In addition to the recruitment of the participants, namely pedophilic and non-pedophilic sexual offenders, the research collaboration is characterized by a multimodal approach consisting of imaging, genetics, epigenetics, endocrinology, and psychology.The methods are composed of initially common trunk research questionsand site-specific investigations.
The methods of the common trunk are:

  1. standardized clincical-diagnostic interviews
  2. structural MRI with high resolution T1-scans (MPRAGE) and measurements of the white matter (DTI)
  3. functional MRI-Scans regarding sexual preferences, resting-state activity and inhibition
  4. neuropsychological and psychometrical testing
  5. endocrinological and (epi-)genetic investigations

A description of site-specific investigations can be found under Sites.


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