- A new Canadian study that found pedophiles have a strong
tendency to be left-handed could help change decades of thinking about
such sexual deviants -- and lead to new ways of combating the problem,
says one of the researchers behind it.
- Most experts have theorized that pedophiles are motivated
by psycho-social factors such as their early upbringing or sexual history,
and treatment has responded accordingly.
- But the study published this month in Archives of Sexual
Behaviour indicates there is a strong neurological factor, perhaps triggered
by birth defects, that one day might be prevented.
- The researchers at Toronto's Centre for Addiction and
Mental Health now plan to peruse MRI images of pedophiles for signs of
- "For more than a century, we've been putting a great
deal of energy and effort into one class of theories about pedophilia and
essentially ignoring biological components," said Dr. James Cantor,
the study's lead author. "This is the first evidence that those theories
can't be the whole story."
- Pedophiles present a formidable challenge to therapists,
scientists and correctional authorities, with no evidence to date that
their penchant for sex with children can ever be cured. Treatment often
focuses on drugs that lower their libido and teaching strategies to avoid
situations in which they victimize young people.
- There has not been much of a nature-versus-nurture debate
in the field, either, said Dr. Cantor, and little research to explore the
possible role of the brain.
- After previous work suggested a link between left-handedness
and pedophilia, he and other scientists at the Toronto centre set out to
examine the question more closely. They surveyed more than 400 sex offenders,
using phallometric testing -- measuring blood flow in their penises when
shown different images of potentially erotic stimuli -- and questions about
- Among those whose primary sexual interest was children
under 12, more than 30% were left-handed -- three times the rate in the
general population or among sex offenders who favour adult victims.
- Similar associations have been found between left-handedness
and major neurological disorders such as Down's syndrome and autism, the
paper said. Although left-handedness has been linked to mathematical geniuses
and musicians, it is more often associated with negative outcomes.
- The latest findings suggest there is a neurological component
in pedophiles that may interact with psycho-social factors to distort their
sexual behaviour, the study says.
- The brain problem may have occurred while their mothers
were pregnant, Dr. Cantor said.
- "This is going to give us a clue as to what, in
utero, went wrong. And this might be very helpful in preventing it in the
first place," he said.
- "That would be of greater use to society [than a
cure] because treatment only happens when the person has a victim, is apprehended
and is more or less forced into treatment. If we can prevent it ahead of
time, we not only prevent the repeat crimes, we prevent it in the first
- More research could eventually reveal factors -- such
as drinking during pregnancy -- that cause such harm, said Dr. Martin Lalumiere,
a forensic psychologist at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta.
- The new study is "very convincing," he said.
- "It makes a lot of sense that something like pedophilia
would have a neurological basis," Dr. Lalumiere said. Pedophilia is
almost exclusively a problem of men, he noted, and the male brain tends
to be more fragile during development than that of the female.
- Dr. Cantor said he hopes other researchers will take
the notion of a neurological cause of pedophilia more seriously and conduct
further research to explore the connection.
- He and his colleagues plan to study brain scans of people
who commit sexual offences against children and compare them to the brains
of non-sexual offenders for signs of differences.
- The scientists hope to be able to identify parts of the
brain that are different in pedophiles.
- The study also found a link, though less strong, between
left-handedness and hebephiles -- men whose primary sexual interest is
in pubescent children.
- © National Post 2005