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Taxometric Analysis of the Latent Structure of Pedophilic Interest


The present study examined the latent structure of pedophilic interest. Using data from phallometric tests for pedophilic interest across four samples of offenders (ns = 805, 632, 531, 261), taxometric analyses were conducted to identify whether pedophilic interest is best characterized as taxonic or dimensional. Across the samples, the majority of analyses supported taxonic latent structure in pedophilic interest. Visual inspection of taxometric curves indicated trichotomous latent structure (i.e., three-ordered classes) may characterize pedophilic interest in these samples. In a second step of taxometric analysis, the results supported trichotomous latent structure, indicating the presence of a complement taxon and two pedophilic taxa. In comparison with the complement taxon, the men in the first pedophilic taxon were non-exclusively pedophilic and had similar rates of sexual recidivism and sexual compulsivity. The men in the second pedophilic taxon were exclusively pedophilic, had more child victims and total victims, sexually re-offended at a higher rate, and were more sexually compulsive. The finding of trichotomous latent structure in pedophilic interest is both consistent and inconsistent with previous taxometric studies and has implications for research, assessment, and treatment of pedophilic interest.

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  1. 1.

    Using DSM-5 criteria, clinicians make a first categorical decision, whether a client has Pedophilic Disorder or does not have the disorder. Using the exclusivity specifier, clinicians make a second decision, whether a client diagnosed with Pedophilic Disorder is exclusively or non-exclusively attracted to children. This results in three classes of individuals, in terms of presence and intensity of pedophilic interest: teleiophilic, non-exclusively pedophilic, and exclusively pedophilic individuals.

  2. 2.

    Mackaronis, Strassberg, and Marcus (2011b) conducted a taxometric analysis using subscales from the Multiphasic Sex Inventory-2 (MSI-2; Nichols & Molinder, 1984), claiming to have assessed latent structure in pedophilic interest. However, the sexual obsessions and cognitive distortions subscales of the MSI-2 used in this study do not assess pedophilic interest. Given the choice of measure, we do not consider that study as having examined the latent structure of pedophilic interest.

  3. 3.

    Importantly, taxometric analysis appears to answer the simpler question, “Is pedophilic interest dimensional or taxonic?” Most taxometric analyses we are familiar with pose this form of question (e.g., is psychopathy dimensional or taxonic?) and not a more complex form of the question, such as, “Is the bipolar construct, sexual interest in children relative to sexual interest in adults, dimensional or taxonic?” To continue with a psychopathy analogy, this more complex question would be analogous to asking, “Is the bipolar construct, psychopathy relative to being a saint, dimensional or taxonic?” Further to this, theoretical work has suggested that the strength of pedophilic interest should be separated from the exclusivity of pedophilic interest in order to understand the construct (Finkelhor & Araji, 1986). Diagnostically, strength of interest in children is the main consideration (APA, 2013); however, there is an evidence base suggesting relative interest in children is important for specific validity purposes (Blanchard et al., 2009). Based on these considerations, we have intentionally chosen to define pedophilia as the sexual interest in prepubescent children, without considering concomitant interest in adults. This will have ramifications for our methodology and the interpretation of the results.

  4. 4.

    We ran the taxometric analyses with and without the coerced stimuli removed from the audio stimuli datasets. The results did not change in a meaningful way and in order to retain a larger number of indicators, we report results including the coercive stimuli.

  5. 5.

    As a secondary check, MAXEIG Bayesian classification probabilities were also produced and visually inspected. A number of the Bayesian classification probabilities indicated a subset of the samples had a moderate chance of being classified to the taxon, which is consistent with trichotomous latent structure (McGrath, 2008).

  6. 6.

    We combined these datasets given the similarity of the phallometric stimuli used. The RTC 1: Audio and IPP datasets are based on a phallometric procedure using the same auditory stimuli (Quinsey & Chaplin, 1988); however, the IPP stimuli were translated to French (Barsetti et al., 1998). The RPC, RTC 1: Slide, and RTC 2 datasets all contain phallometric data using slide stimuli that are similar in terms of the age rages of persons depicted in the slides. We additionally ran the second step of analyses using only the RTC 2 dataset (n = 204). These analyses were conducted to protect against differences in the results that may have been caused by combining datasets. Conducting taxometric analyses using taxon members in the RTC 2 dataset resulted in CCFIs ranging from .669 to .879, which is consistent with the findings reported in Table 4. All validity estimates for the RTC 2 dataset were within expected limits.

  7. 7.

    Misclassifying complement members as taxon members in the second step of analysis inflates the risk of artificially identifying taxonic structure within the taxon identified in the first step of analysis (Ruscio & Ruscio, 2004). For this reason, in the second step of analysis, all members of the complement class should be excluded from analyses. To protect against artificially identifying taxonic structure within the taxon due to inclusion of complement class members, we reduced the taxon base rate because overestimating the taxon base rate risks complement members being falsely classified as taxon members. Running the second step of analysis with reduced taxon base rates did not change the CCFI results in a meaningful way and are not reported.

  8. 8.

    The Sexual Compulsivity item of the VRS-SO is a 4-point scale, with scores ranging from 0 to 3. We conducted group comparisons on the Sexual Compulsivity item in two ways. For the Mantel–Haenszel χ2 test, the Sexual Compulsivity item score of 0–3 was used. In Table 5, the Sexual Compulsivity item was coded as present (scores of 2 and 3) or absent (scores of 0 and 1) and odds ratios were computed. On the VRS-SO, items rated as 2 or 3 are indicative of problem areas and are used in clinical practice to identify treatment targets for sexual offenders (Olver et al., 2007).


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This research was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

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Correspondence to Ian V. McPhail.

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Ethics approval for this research was received from University of Saskatchewan Behavioural Research Ethics Board to conduct all analyses conducted in the manuscript and to combine datasets in the manner outlined in the manuscript. This article does not contain any studies with human participants performed by any of the authors. All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. For this type of study, formal consent is not required.

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McPhail, I.V., Olver, M.E., Brouillette-Alarie, S. et al. Taxometric Analysis of the Latent Structure of Pedophilic Interest. Arch Sex Behav 47, 2223–2240 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-018-1225-4

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  • Pedophilia
  • Sexual interest in children
  • Taxometric analysis
  • Human sexuality
  • Phallometric testing
  • DSM-5