Vol. 9, No. 1, 2003 Page 3

Brain tumor leads to pedophilia

An egg-sized brain tumor caused a man with no history of pedophilia to begin molesting children, according to a report presented recently at the annual meeting of the American Neurological Association.

The 40-year-old man, a married teacher, had never exhibited abnormal sexual impulses. When he began visiting child pornography websites, visiting prostitutes, and making sexual advances to young children, his wife left him. Eventually he was convicted of child molestation, and entered a treatment program for pedophiles. He continued to display inappropriate sexual behavior, and was expelled from a rehabilitation program after propositioning the women attending the program.

Shortly afterward, the man visited a hospital complaining of headaches and telling hospital staffers that he feared that he would rape his landlady. Doctors noted that he exhibited balance problems, had lost the ability to write or copy drawings, and showed a lack of concern when he urinated on himself.

At this point, doctors ordered an MRI scan that showed a large tumor in the right orbitofrontal cortex. The tumor was removed, and the man successfully completed his therapy and returned home. When his aberrant sexual thoughts and behaviors began resurfacing later, an MRI scan showed that the tumor had returned. When it was removed, the man's behavior again returned to normal.

Russell Swerdlow and Jeffrey Burns, the University of Virginia Medical School doctors who reported the man's case, say that the location of the tumor was critical, because it compromised the function of a brain region responsible for judgment, social behavior, and self- control. They note, however, that brain tumors are unlikely to be the cause of pedophilia except in rare cases involving individuals with no prior history of aberrant behavior.

Behavioral neurologist David Rosenfield, commenting on the case study, suggests that hormonal alterations stemming from the tumor also could have played a role in the man's behavioral changes.

We're dealing with the neurology of morality here," says Swerdlow. Noting that the tumor caused few physical symptoms, he says, "It's one of those areas where you could have a lot of damage and a doctor would never suspect something's wrong."

Other crimes, including homicides, have also been linked to brain tumors. One of the most infamous cases was that of Charles Whitman, who killed 15 students at the University of Texas by firing on them from the school's bell tower. An autopsy showed that Whitman had a tumor in his amygdala, a brain area involved in emotional reactions.


"Brain tumour 'caused paedophilia,'" BBC News, October 21, 2002.

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"Brain tumour causes uncontrollable paedophilia," New Scientist, October 21, 2002.

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