A combination of two tasks for implied sexual associations has distinguished — with more than 90 per cent certainty — a group of paedophilic men from a group of men with a sexual preference for adult women. In the long term this could lead to a diagnostic test, for example for men who have applied to work with children.
Psychologists at Radboud University Nijmegen have published their findings in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior (online on April 24th).
This study was the first to work with paedophilic men who were not imprisoned or confined for involuntary psychiatric treatment in a clinic. It reported a highly significant effect: the tests distinguished the paedophile group from the controls with more than 90 per cent accuracy. Furthermore, in both groups of subjects (paedophiles and heterosexual non-paedophiles) one of the tasks (the Picture Association Task, see below) indicated positive as well as negative associations with sex with either children under twelve or adult women. Stated another way: the test showed that paedophiles not only have positive associations with children and sex, but also negative associations with adult women and sex. In the control group, this was the exact opposite.
Motivation for the study
There is growing interest for measuring implicit associations in psychiatry. These are associations that occur automatically, are partly unconscious and hard to repress. The question addressed by the researchers was the following: can such a task be used to detect implicit sexual associations in paedophiles (people with a sexual preference for children) and paedosexuals (people who act according to this preference)?
Novel aspects of the study
In recent years, various studies have been conducted with incarcerated paedosexuals using tasks that measure these implicit sexual associations. The research conducted by the Nijmegen psychologists differs from these studies in two important ways: it used not one task, but a combination of two tasks, and the paedophiles who participated in the study were not incarcerated or involuntarily committed to a clinic. In any case, that was the situation at the time of the study; one of the subjects had previously been incarcerated.
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