Date of Award


Level of Access Assigned by Author

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Jeffrey E. Hecker

Second Committee Member

Raymond A. Knight

Third Committee Member

Geoffrey L. Thorpe


Evidence has accumulated in support of the hypothesis that one pathway to pedophilia - a disorder marked by persistent sexual interest in children - may originate with neurological disturbances during early-life development. Comparatively high rates in pedophilic sex offenders of phenomena such as non-right-handedness, shorter than average height, cognitive deficits, and poor scholastic aptitude may be observable indications of this putative vulnerability. The purpose of the current study was to ascertain whether this vulnerability likely represents a discrete prodromal condition for pedophilia limited to a finite population, or a continuum of risk present to a greater or lesser degree in all individuals. Data were obtained on 900 inmates evaluated for possible civil commitment for sexual dangerousness in Massachusetts between 1959 and 1990, through archival sources that included intelligence testing, school, legal, and clinical records, and reports of developmental history. Candidate indicators were tentatively selected based on their rational relevance to neurological development, and those meeting minimum data requirements were analyzed using two independent taxometric procedures: Mean Above Minus Below A Cut (MAMBAC) and Maximum Eigenvalue (MAXEIG). Analytic outcomes were compared across procedures, different sets of indicators, and alternate data specifications to arrive at a structural conclusion. Results suggested the presence of a taxon delineated primarily by indicators tapping lower intelligence, cognitive processing impairments, and symptoms of thought disturbance. Poor scholastic aptitude appeared to be a dimensional correlate rather than a defining taxonic feature. Follow-up analyses involving non-neurodevelopmental characteristics revealed that probable taxon members were comparatively more likely to be interpersonally seclusive and have an early school history of discipline problems, less likely to have lived independently and been married, and, central to theory, more likely to have victimized a prepubescent child. Pending future corroboration, these results tentatively support characterizing neurodevelopmental vulnerability for pedophilia as a discrete prodrome for a finite population. This implies that a consistent set of early-life developmental events underlies the condition, providing insight into one possible etiology of pedophilia. Future research on the link between this prodrome and pedophilia should focus as much on probable taxon members as on undifferentiated samples of pedophiles.

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