Response Inhibition and Impulsive Decision-Making in Sexual Offenders Against Children

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Abstract

Current theories view impulsivity as an important factor in the explanation of sexual offending. While impulsivity itself is a multidimensional construct, response inhibition and impulsive decision-making are frequently discussed subcomponents. Impulsivity in sexual offenders could be triggered by sexual cues with high emotional significance. The present study compared response inhibition abilities and the degree of impulsive decision-making between 63 child sexual abusers and 63 nonoffending controls. A Go/No-Go task was used to assess response inhibition, while the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT) and the Game of Dice Task (GDT) were used for the assessment of decision-making. In contrast to previous studies, modified versions of the Go/No-Go task and the IGT were used, including pictures of the Not Real People-Set depicting nude adults and children. Child sexual abusers showed more deficits in response inhibition in the Go/No-Go task. Furthermore, decision-making was especially impaired by the presence of child images in child sexual abusers with more intense pedophilic sexual interests. In contrast, in the nonoffending controls the presence of preferred sexual cues (pictures of women) improved decision-making performance. No differences in overall GDT performance were found between the groups; however, child sexual abusers chose the riskiest option more frequently than nonoffending controls. In line with theoretical assumptions about the processes underlying sexual offending, child sexual abusers show more deficits in neuropsychological functioning, which may be related to more impulsive behaviors. These impairments could be triggered by the presence of sexually relevant cues.

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