Current scientific research on paedophilia: a review

Recenti sviluppi nella ricerca scientifica sulla pedofilia: una review

G.A. Capra, B. Forresi, E. Caffo

Dipartimento di Medicina Diagnostica, Clinica e di Sanità Pubblica, Università di Modena e Reggio Emilia



Child sexual abuse is a very common problem in most parts of the world. Sexually abused children and adolescents are at risk for a wide range of mental health disorders and adjustment difficulties that can persist until adult life. Paedophilia is therefore a major public health issue and a worldwide concern, considering that sex offenders show a preference for children as their primary sexual interest and that this kind of offence has a high rate of recidivism. Although neglected for a long time, research on this topic has increased substantially during the last two decades. In an effort to more clearly understand paedophilia, the aim of this investigation is to conduct a review of recently published articles to identify developments and trends that might be useful in clinical practice with adult patients, and contribute in preventing child sexual abuse.


The Pubmed database (from January 2010 to February 2012) was queried entering “paedophilia” as keyword. Reports of original data or reviews published in scientific journals addressing assessment, diagnosis and treatment of paedophilia were reviewed. Relevant studies are described herein.


Our search strategy generated 72 records. From these 72 abstracts, 41 met the inclusion criteria. These studies raised many fundamental questions such as the validity of current diagnostic criteria for paedophilia in DSM IV-TR, the proposal of new diagnostic criteria for the DSM-5, influenced by the increasing use of Internet by paedophiles, and the importance of an accurate diagnosis. Findings from neurobiological studies showing neural correlates of paedophilic interest are presented, suggesting new clinical perspectives and rising new questions concerning assessment and treatment.


The theme of paedophilia is currently the subject of important research and productive debate. Recent studies on functional brain response are introducing new perspectives in the assessment of this disorder, and have relevant implications in terms of targeted treatments and prevention. Further studies are needed, with larger samples and more rigorous research methods.

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