Research: Psychopathy and abnormal psychology

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Non-criminal populations of pedophiles do not exhibit increased levels of psychopathy or other pathologies.

Associated characteristics

  • Wilson, Glenn & Cox, David (1983). The Child-Lovers: A Study of Paedophiles in Society. London: Peter Owen Publishers.
    "The psychoticism score of the paedophiles [in our study] is slightly elevated compared with controls, but not drastically so, and certainly not to the extent that they could be called pathological as a group. There are several occupational groups listed in the Manual that have P[sychoticism] scores of approximately the same order, including actors, apprentices, architects, doctors, drivers, students and welfare officers, none of which could be regarded as clinically psychotic as a whole. Thus, there is no reason on the basis of these results to suppose that men with paedophile sexual preferences are necessarily marked by any exceptional degree of thought disorder. [...]
    The neuroticism scores of the paedophiles are again slightly higher than controls but not to an extent that would justify describing them as clinically abnormal. Among groups of men with similar N[euroticism] scores according to the Manual are actors, apprentices, machinists and students, and a great many of the female groups given in the Manual show N scores that are higher than these male paedophiles. [...]
    Perhaps the most striking thing about these results is how normal the paedophiles appear to be according to their scores on these major personality dimensions - particularly the two that are most clinically relevant (N[euroticism] and P[sychoticism]). The only marked characteristic of the PIE [Paedophile Information Exchange] members with respect to these major dimensions is their tendency to introversion, and this in itself is not usually thought of as pathological. Furthermore, the fact that the Lie Scale scores of the paedophiles are not distinguishable from those of controls would suggest that, overall, they were not bent on creating an artificially favourable impression on the questionnaire, but were giving an honest and accurate self-report. [...]
    Obsessionality, as indicated by this particular item from the EPQ does not seem to be characteristic of the paedophiles; in fact, the proportion endorsing this item is lower than that for controls. [...]
    When all these factors are considered it is clear that the sexual preferences of the paedophile are not so far removed from those of the normal man as they might at first appear."
  • Berlin, F. S. (2000). "Treatments to change sexual orientation," The American Journal of Psychiatry, 157, 5.
    "Individuals whose sexual orientation is directed toward children manifest the same range of personality, temperamental, and character traits as individuals whose sexual orientation is directed towards adults. A recent Journal article documented that the vast majority of individuals with pedophilia showed no evidence of either antisocial or narcissistic personality disorder."
  • Whittaker, J. Wilson (2007). "A comparison of neurocognitive functioning in pedophilic child molesters, nonpedophilic child molesters and normal adult males," pp. 7-8. Ph.D. dissertation, The University of Utah.
    "Post hoc testing revealed significantly greater psychopathy among nonpedophilic child molesters in comparison to pedophiles on the Psychopathic Deviate Scale (p = .026), and a trend in the regard to the group differences on the Mac-R that suggested nonpedophilic offenders had more severe scores on the Mac-R than did pedophiles. Scores for [community sample] controls fell in between the two groups in regard to psychopathy on both the PDS and the Mac-R (see Table 3). These differences suggest that psychopathic traits were more prevalent among nonpedophilic child molesters (and possibly controls) than among pedophiles. At first blush, this finding appears inconsistent with much of the current literature on pedophiles, who have often been characterized as largely psychopathic (Dorr, 1998; Firestone, Bradford, Greenberg & Serran, 2000). However, there are at least two possible explanations for this discrepancy. First, considering the percentage of our controls with reported substance abuse histories (35%), and who had been incarcerated (26%) (national average is 4.1%) (US Census Bureau, 2005), there is a clear indication that the control group was not an accurate representation of the "normal" population, possibly being more psychopathic than would be expected. Second, pedophiles may actually be less psychopathic than formerly believed. In the previous studies of psychopathy in pedophilia (Dorr, 1998, 2000; Firestone, Bradford, Greenberg & Serran, 2000; Porter et al., 2000) the researchers failed to divide child molesters into pedophilic and nonpedophilic groups. As a consequence, psychopathy may have been a phenomenon factually associated with nonpedophilic offenders and wrongly associated with pedophiles."
  • Suchy, Yana; Whittaker, Wilson J.; Strassberg, Donald S.; Eastvold, Angela (2009). "Facial and Prosodic Affect Recognition Among Pedophilic and Nonpedophilic Criminal Child Molesters," Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, 21(1), 93-110.
    NewgonWiki: Pedophilic child molesters scored significantly lower (350.72) on a Psychopathic Symptom Inventory than both non-pedophilic child molesters (382.91) and community controls (372.33).
Suchy table.png
  • Schiffer, Boris and Vonlaufen, Corinne (2011). "Executive Dysfunctions in Pedophilic and Nonpedophilic Child Molesters", The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 8(7), pp. 1975-1984.
    "Results indicate that pedophilic child molesters exhibited less performance deficits in cognitive functioning than nonpedophilic child molesters. Compared to healthy controls and nonsexual offenders, the pedophilic child molesters only showed executive dysfunction concerning response inhibition, whereas the nonpedophilic child molesters revealed more severe dysfunction, especially on tasks associated with cognitive flexibility and verbal memory. [...]
    "Both the nonpedophilic child molesters and the nonsexual offenders showed significant performance deficits on both subtasks of the verbal memory task (immediate and delayed recall) compared to healthy controls, whereas pedophilic child molesters did not. As previous studies could show that deficits in verbal memory were associated with aggressive behavior, it seems reasonable that pedophilic child molesters showed no or less deficits on this task. In the end, pedophilic child molesters were rather characterized by a nonviolent offense style, whereas nonpedophilic child molesters and nonsexual offenders revealed stronger aggressive tendencies through their offenses. [...]
    "We found that nonpedophilic child molesters showed the worst performance of all four groups in all tested cognitive functions even though not all reached significance regarding group comparison statistics. Nevertheless, we found that different types of offenders are characterized by different deficit profiles among the tested executive functions. Our results support the hypothesis that nonpedophilic child molesters show more comprehensive performance deficits in executive functions than pedophilic child molesters. However, a majority of the neuropsychological deficits, in particular those associated with verbal (memory) skills, seem to be associated with criminality or violence rather than pedophilia."

Multiple paraphilias?

  • Fedora O., Reddon J. R., Morrison J. W., Fedora S. K., Pascoe, H., & Yeudall, L. T. (1992). "Sadism and other paraphilias in normal controls and sex offenders," Archives of Sexual Behavior, 21(1), 1-15.
    "Pedophilia had a low incidence of co-occurrence with other paraphilias whereas sadism, transvestism, fetishism, and the courtship disorder paraphilias had a high incidence of co-occurrence. [...] These results suggest that pedophilia occurred alone much more frequently than did the other paraphilias." [Of subjects who responded most to children, 90.9% of non-offenders, 84.7% of sexually non-aggressive offenders, and 50% of sexually aggressive offenders showed no other paraphilia.]
  • Marshall, W. L., & Eccles, A. (1991). "Issues in clinical practice with sex offenders," Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 6, 69-70.
    "Related to the issue of diagnosis is the claim that sex offenders have multiple paraphilias (Abel & Rouleau, 1990). This particular study is worth considering in a bit more detail as its influence has been quite substantial, so much that the results are frequently cited as gospel. For instance, DSM III-R states that "people with a Paraphilia commonly suffer from several varieties: in clinical settings that specialize in the treatment of Paraphilias, people with these disorders have an average of from three to four different Paraphilias" (American Psychiatric Association, 1987, p. 280). Abel, Becker, Cunningham-Rathner, Mittelman, and Rouleau (1988) elicited self-reports from 561 subjects, some of whom reported engaging in more than one type of deviant sexual act. However, when we sum the number of subjects listed in their table, we find 1156 men, not just the original 561, are listed over the various categories. Our guess is that the way in which each patient's problems were tallied accounts for this discrepancy. It seems that when a man reported more than one deviant act (e.g., he reported raping an adult female and molesting a young boy) he was counted twice (i.e., once as a rapist with an extra deviance and once as a child molester with an extra deviance). This, of course, would artificially inflate the apparent number of multiple paraphiliacs, particularly when we note that some of Abel's patients reported 10 or more paraphilias. In addition, it is not clear what criteria were employed to decide that an extra deviance was present. Abel et al. (1988) use the term "multiple paraphilia" as if to imply that they strictly adhered to the DSM diagnostic criteria, and yet they could not have, because rape does not appear in the diagnostic manual. If a 50-year-old man reported that when he was a teenager he had once or twice engaged in a deviant act other than the one for which he was referred, would this count as an additional paraphilia? If so this would inflate the number of apparent multiple paraphiliacs in a way that would seem somewhat misleading."

Limitations of criminal studies

  • Green, R. (2002). "Is pedophilia a mental disorder?," Archives of Sexual Behavior, 31(6), 467-471.
    "A study of general personality features and concurrent psychopathology of pedophiles is hampered by sampling bias. Nearly all studies involve prisoners or those convicted of a criminal offence. These are doubtfully representative of all pedophiles who have contact with children and certainly not representative of pedophiles who confine their eroticism to fantasy and so do not break the law. Finkelhor et al. (1986) observed the following sampling bias in convicted sex offenders: “[They are] a small fraction of all offenders, the most flagrant and repetitive in offending, most socially disadvantaged, and least able to persuade criminal justice authorities to let them off” (p. 138)."
  • Okami, P. & Goldberg, A. (1992). "Personality Correlates of Pedophilia: Are They Reliable Indicators?," Journal of Sex Research, 29(3), 297-328.
    Okami and Goldberg systematically reviewed the literature and found that pathology has not been reliably associated with pedophilia. They conclude: "The clearest finding of the present review is that relatively little may be stated about the personality or phenomenology of pedophiles [...] Looking at the very scanty data pertaining to pedophilia per se, then, we are unable to report any reliable findings. [...] as Wilson and Cox (1983) and several others have pointed out, the types of affective and social pathologies associated with samples of pedophiles ... seriously beg the question of causal direction. Guilt feelings, feelings of ostracism loneliness, low self-esteem, etc., clearly are exacerbated by, if not sequelae of, the social condition of pedophiles ... and should not be interpreted as representing etiological variables or intrinsic correlates of sexual preference for children. [...] For example, because an unknown percentage of true pedophiles may never act on their impulses or may never be arrested, forensic samples of sex offenders against minors clearly do not represent the population of "pedophiles," and many such persons apparently do not even belong to the population of "pedophiles.""
  • Whittaker, J. Wilson (2007). "A comparison of neurocognitive functioning in pedophilic child molesters, nonpedophilic child molesters and normal adult males," pp. 35-36. Ph.D. dissertation, The University of Utah.
    "This conceptualization of the role of the frontal lobe as a moderator of sexual behavior is consistent with evidence from neurological injury studies in which frontal lobe damage is associated with generalized hypersexual behavior, rather than the manifestation of new targets of sexual interest (Lesniak, Szymusik, & Chrzanowski, 1972; Sabhesan & Natarjan, 1989; Stein, Solvason, Biggart, & Speigel, 1996; Tavares, 2000). Considered within the context of pedophilia, this suggests that pedophiles with frontal lobe damage may be at greater risk than pedophiles without such damage for acting upon their sexual interests, which increases the likelihood of their committing a crime, and subsequently increases the chance that they will be caught. The authors put forth the supposition that frontal lobe damage in pedophiles may also result in poor planning, difficulties inhibiting perseverative sexual thoughts, low frustration tolerance, inattention and impulsivity. It is argued that these traits would also likely predispose the offender to detection by law enforcement (Cohen et al., 2002; Stone & Thompson, 2001). Consequently, there exists the possibility that neuropsychological weaknesses evidenced in pedophiles may simply be an artifact associated with self-selection bias, such that pedophiles with neurocognitive weaknesses may be more likely to be caught (and therefore available as research participants) than pedophiles with normal neurocognitive function."

Is pedophilia a mental disorder?

The received clinical wisdom of pedophilia as mental disorder represents a blurring of moral-legal and medical definitions. There is no scientific basis for classifying pedophilia as a mental disorder when it does not cause marked problems for the pedophile or those who he or she interacts with.

  • Green, R. (2002). "Is pedophilia a mental disorder?," Archives of Sexual Behavior, 31(6), 467-471.
    "Sexual arousal patterns to children are subjectively reported and physiologically demonstrable in a substantial minority of “normal” people. Historically, they have been common and accepted in varying cultures at varying times. This does not mean that they must be accepted culturally and legally today. The question is: Do they constitute a mental illness? Not unless we declare a lot of people in many cultures and in much of the past to be mentally ill. And certainly not by the criteria of DSM."
  • Tromovitch, P. (2009). "Manufacturing Mental Disorder by Pathologizing Erotic Age Orientation: A Comment on Blanchard et al. (2008)," Archives of Sexual Behavior, 38(3), 328
    "Like masturbation and homosexuality, pedophilia (informally: erotic attraction to prepubescent people) appears to have entered the DSM as a "mental disorder" without any scientific or rational basis."
  • Szasz, T. (2002). "Sins of the Fathers: Is child molestation a sickness or a crime?," Reason, Aug/Sep, 2002.
    "Crimes are acts we commit. Diseases are biological processes that happen to our bodies. Mixing these two concepts by defining behaviors we disapprove of as diseases is a bottomless source of confusion and corruption. [...] Geoghan himself has been convicted of molestation in one case and faces trial in another. But if his behavior was caused by "the disease of pedophilia," a condition that not only compelled him to fondle boys but erased his memory of those "diseased acts," how can it be just to punish him? [...] Today virtually any unwanted behavior, from shopaholism and kleptomania to sexaholism and pedophilia, may be defined as a disease whose diagnosis and treatment belong in the province of the medical system. Disease-making thus has become similar to lawmaking. [...] The entire psychiatric literature on what used to be called "sexual perversions" is permeated by the unfounded idea -- always implied, sometimes asserted -- that "abnormal" sexual impulses are harder to resist than "normal" ones."
  • Haeberle, Erwin J. (2010). "Paraphilia - A Prescientific Concept," Magnus Hirschfeld Archive for Sexology.
    "Anyone who uses a term like 'paraphilia' thereby indirectly claims to know what is right and wrong in human sexual behavior. [...] To us modern sexologists, however, it should be clear by now that the Natural Law doctrine has no place in science. It should therefore be equally clear that the term 'disorder' is no longer acceptable when it comes to something as complex as human sexual behavior. Scientists should leave such moral certainty (better: dogmatism) to the religious authorities. In conclusion: We in sexology should, once and for all, get rid of the moralistic, prescientific terms 'paraphilia' and 'disorder'."
  • Hinderliter, Andrew C. (2010). "Defining Paraphilia: Excluding Exclusion," Open Access Journal of Forensic Psychology, 2, 241–272.
    The author challenges a number of common arguments for retaining pedophilia in the DSM. "This leaves only the issue of pedophilia. The arguments considered so far render highly tenuous the basis of retaining it in the DSM, but the issue is complicated because there is a legitimate treatment issue involved—people distressed about their attraction to children wanting clinical help in resisting these desires should have access to such help. Whether the current state of this diagnosis is effective for promoting such treatment, especially in non-correctional populations, and how (and if) it could be modified to better support such treatment are important questions deserving further research and consideration (for concerns that these have not been taken seriously in the DSM revision process, see B4U-ACT, 2010). Even if pedophilia is kept in the DSM on the basis of pragmatic arguments about facilitation of treatment, this still leaves serious doubt about whether it is an appropriate diagnosis on which to base indefinite civil commitment."
  • Malón, Agustin (2012). "Pedophilia: A Diagnosis in Search of a Disorder", Archives of Sexual Behavior, 41(5), pp. 1083-1097.
    "It has been shown, and many of the parties to the controversy would have no difficulty in agreeing, that some people with pedophilia apparently do not suffer as a result and that, in any event, such distress they may experience is rather the predictable result of conflict with society (Bernard, 1985; Howitt, 1995; Vogt, 2006; Wilson & Cox, 1983). [...]
    "Are men with pedophilia dangerous? If they are, in what way? Under what circumstances? Does their dangerousness depend on their erotic peculiarity or on their character? [...] Any assertion in this sense may be premature and incomplete, given the limited state of our current knowledge which rests largely on the evidence gleaned from very biased samples of subjects who have been imprisoned for criminal offences (Seto, 2008). And it has been suggested that "it is likely that the criminal offending requires additional individual risk factors separate from the paraphilic interest per se" (Langstrom, 2009, p. 2). [...]
    "In this sense, finally, we should consider the possibility of conceptualizing pedophilia as a very complex phenomenon that, contrary to other paraphilias, it is oriented towards another person and not to objects or animals, parts of the body or any kind of act. Its essence does not reside in exploitation, assault or harm to others, and some pedophiles look also for the child's friendship and love (Lautmann, 1994; Li, 1990; Schmidt, 2002; Seto, 2012). Regardless of the intense feelings of rejection that some of its manifestations generate in most of us, to conceptualize and discuss this condition in the same category with the compulsive necessity to show one's genitals to an unsuspecting stranger is contributing to an inadequate, ineffective, and confusing theory of human eroticism and its problems."