Diminished fronto-limbic functional connectivity in child sexual offenders

Child Sexual Offenders

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A pioneering new paper from Germany shows why understanding how the brain works is so important. This is also the core of our teaching at The Reward Foundation.

The paper is “Diminished fronto-limbic functional connectivity in child sexual offenders” by Kneer et al (2019). It is important because it takes brain imagining into new territory by looking at the brains of adult sex offenders who do not have pedophilic tendencies. Research quoted in this paper suggests that perhaps 10% of all children world-wide are victims of sexual assault. It suggests about half of these assaults are committed by non-pedophiles. Are there features in the brains of these men that make their minds different to the brains of men who do not offend?

Unfortunately, one factor that is not investigated is the pornography consumption profile of either the offending population or of the healthy control group. This is a missed opportunity. For example, perhaps future research could ask about pornography use to see if escalation, a characteristic feature of compulsive use of internet pornography and addiction, was a factor in the non-pedophilic sexual assault of children.

The paper is published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research and is available for free here. One of the co-authors is Klaus Beier from the Institute of Sexology and Sexual Medicine in Berlin. Professor Beier was featured in a blog post by The Reward Foundation when he spoke in Scotland in August 2017. He is founder of the Dunkelfeld Project which aims to stop men from sexual offending with children.



Child sexual abuse and neglect have been connected to an increased risk for the development of a wide range of behavioural, psychological, and sexual problems and increased rates of suicidal behaviour. Contrary to the large amount of research focusing on the negative mental health consequences of child sexual abuse, very little is known about the characteristics of child sexual offenders and the neuronal underpinnings contributing to child sexual offending.

Methods and sample

This study investigates differences in resting state functional connectivity (rs-FC) between non-pedophilic child sexual offenders (N = 20; CSO-P) and matched healthy controls (N = 20; HC) using a seed-based approach. The focus of this investigation of rs-FC in CSO-P was put on prefrontal and limbic regions highly relevant for emotional and behavioral processing.


Results revealed a significant reduction of rs-FC between the right centromedial amygdala and the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex in child sexual offenders compared to controls.

Conclusion & recommendations

Given that, in the healthy brain, there is a strong top-down inhibitory control of prefrontal over limbic structures, these results suggest that diminished rs-FC between the amygdala and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and may foster sexual deviance and sexual offending. A profound understanding of these concepts should contribute to a better understanding of the occurrence of child sexual offending, as well as further development of more differentiated and effective interventions.

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