European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience

, Volume 258, Issue 5, pp 271-277

First online:

Abnormal amygdala activation profile in pedophilia

  • Alexander SartoriusAffiliated withCentral Institute of Mental Health, J5
  • , Matthias RufAffiliated withCentral Institute of Mental Health, J5
  • , Christine KiefAffiliated withCentral Institute of Mental Health, J5
  • , Traute DemirakcaAffiliated withCentral Institute of Mental Health, J5
  • , Josef BailerAffiliated withCentral Institute of Mental Health, J5
  • , Gabriele EndeAffiliated withCentral Institute of Mental Health, J5
  • , Fritz A. HennAffiliated withCentral Institute of Mental Health, J5Brookhaven National Laboratory, Life Sciences Directorate, Upton
  • , Andreas Meyer-LindenbergAffiliated withCentral Institute of Mental Health, J5Unit for Systems Neuroscience in Psychiatry, Clinical Brain Disorders Branch, NIMH
  • , Harald DressingAffiliated withCentral Institute of Mental Health, J5 Email author 

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Despite considerable public interest research in neurobiological correlates of pedophilia is scarce. Since amygdala activation is central for emotional valuation, arousal, and salience, we investigated the activation profile of this structure in 10 male subjects with pedophilia (exclusively attracted to boys), all convicted sex-offenders and sentenced to forensic psychiatric treatment along with ten male heterosexual matched controls. We used a sexually non-explicit functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) paradigm with images of men, women, boys or girls randomly embedded in neutral target/non-target geometrical symbols. We applied statistical parametric mapping (SPM2) and SPSS 14 for image processing and analysis. While controls activated significantly less to pictures of children compared to adults, the activation profile was reversed in subjects with pedophilia, who exhibited significantly more activation to children than adults. The highest activation was observed for boys in the patient group, and for women in control participants. Our data show enhanced activation to children’s pictures even in an incidental context and suggest the provocative hypothesis that a normally present mechanism for reduced emotional arousal for children relative to adults is reversed in pedophilia, suggesting a neural substrate associated with deviant sexual preference in this condition. More extensive research in this field would be of benefit for both the victims and the offenders.


fMRI pedophilia striato-limbic pathway amygdala