Pedophilia is a sexual preference that is often associated with child sex offending (CSO). Sexual urges towards prepubescent children and specifically acting upon those urges are universally regarded as immoral. However, up until now, it is completely unknown whether moral processing of sexual offenses is altered in pedophiles. A total of 31 pedophilic men and 19 healthy controls were assessed by using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in combination with a moral judgment paradigm consisting of 36 scenarios describing different types of offenses.
Scenarios depicting sexual offenses against children compared to those depicting adults were associated with higher pattern of activation in the left temporo-parietal-junction (TPJ) and left posterior insular cortex, the posterior cingulate gyrus as well as the precuneus in controls relative to pedophiles, and vice versa. Moreover, brain activation in these areas were positively associated with ratings of moral reprehensibility and negatively associated with decision durations, but only in controls. Brain activation, found in key areas related to the broad network of moral judgment, theory of mind and (socio-)moral disgust - point to different moral processing of sexual offenses in pedophilia in general. The lack of associations between brain activation and behavioral responses in pedophiles further suggest a biased response pattern or dissected implicit valuation processes.
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