Abstract

The present study was designed to explore the interference effects of sexual interest on viewing reaction time and cognitive functioning, in a group of sexual offenders.

In order to test this hypothesis, 31 rapists, 27 child molesters, 53 control males and 24 control females, were given with a PC a viewing reaction time task while being distracted with photos of semi-nude males and females of various ages and other stimuli. In the second part of the experiment, the subjects were instructed to attempt to recall whether or not the photograph had been presented during the first part or whether it was novel.

The results showed that extra-familial child molesters had their longest viewing times with the photos of girls, intra-familial child molesters and control women with the photos of adolescent females, and rapists and control males with the photos of women.

The pattern of errors during the incidental learning task yielded several interesting findings. Intra- and extra-familial child molesters showed the best recognition with the photos of boys and adolescents males. Especially, extra-familial child molesters showed the best recognition with photos of boys, despite having looked at them for the shortest period of time, probably because of defensiveness. In general, the profile of child molesters seems to be between that of the control males’ and the control females’ profile, while the rapists’ profile seems to have many common features with the control males’ profile.

In summary, viewing reaction time, in combination with incidental learning tasks, can serve as an unobtrusive measure of males’ sexual interests. The results of this study encourage the development and use of such techniques in epidemiological studies, as well as on professionals working with children.

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