The Neuropsychology of Adolescent Sexual Offending: Testing an Executive Dysfunction Hypothesis

Hugo B. Morais, Christian C. Joyal, Apryl A. Alexander, Rebecca Fix, Barry R. Burkhart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Although executive dysfunctions are commonly hypothesized to contribute to sexual deviance or aggression, evidence of this relationship is scarce and its specificity is unproven, especially among adolescents. The objective of this study was to compare the executive functioning (EF) of adolescents with sexual offense convictions (ASOC) to that of non-sex-delinquents (NSD). A secondary goal was to assess the relationship among specific sexual offense characteristics (i.e., victim age), history of childhood sexual abuse (CSA), and EF. It was hypothesized that as a group, ASOC would present similar EF profiles as NSD. It was further hypothesized that ASOC with child victims would present significantly higher rates of CSA and more severe impairment of EF than ASOC with peer-aged or older victims and NSD. A total of 183 male adolescents (127 ASOC and 56 NSD) were interviewed to collect demographic information, sexual development history, history of CSA, an assessment of living conditions, and history of delinquency and sexual offending. Participants were administered the Delis–Kaplan Executive Functioning System and the Hare Psychopathy Checklist–Youth Version. In accord with the first hypothesis, ASOC and NSD presented similar EF scores, well below normative values. Thus, EF deficits may not characterize the profiles of adolescents with sexual behavior problems. Contrarily to our second hypothesis, however, offending against children and or experiencing CSA were not associated with poorer EF performance. On the contrary, ASOC with child victims obtained significantly higher scores on measures of higher order EF than both ASOC with peer-aged or older victims and NSD. Implications of these results and future directions are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)741-754
Number of pages14
JournalSexual Abuse: Journal of Research and Treatment
Volume28
Issue number8
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 1 2016
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • executive functioning
  • juvenile sex offenders
  • juveniles
  • sex offenders
  • sexual deviance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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