The results, published in the Clinical and Special Psychology magazine, can be used in treatment and to develop measures to prevent sexual crimes.
Research on pedophilia is highly ambiguous. Some experts attribute the criminals' denial that they have inflicted any harm to a lack of empathy. Others point out that they have impaired emotional responses and empathy. These data show that those who commit sexual crimes do not understand nor care for the victim's condition.
Experts also regard alexithymia (when a person cannot identify their own emotions) as an important factor. This impedes the criminal from relating other people's feelings with a point of reference in themselves, which makes the criminal misinterpret emotional signals from the victim.
The MSUPE experts' hypothesis was that the ability to understand emotional states is limited in those who commit sexual crimes and is connected with pedophilia. In addition, emotional perception disorders are related to the mechanisms that regulate abnormal sexual attraction.
The research was based on a survey of a group of people charged with sexual crimes who had been diagnosed with pedophilia, a group without this diagnosis and a "comparative group." Among those with pedophilia, experts made a comparative study of those with ego-dystonic (when the patient's behaviors are dissonant with their ideal self-image and the goals of the ego) and ego-syntonic (when the patient completely accepts the deviant behaviors) views of their sexual attraction.
The experts say they have managed to resolve the contradictions arising from previous studies. Their research indicates that pedophiles' ability to understand emotional states is intact (based on a comparison with those accused of sexual crimes who had not been diagnosed with pedophilia.) However, pedophiles are characterized by a high level of alexithymia, which leads to the conclusion that there are emotional regulation disorders for the ego-syntonic form of the disorder.
"We believe this result to be important, because a person who does not recognize their own emotions loses an entire layer of information in the motivation and demand sphere, information which is necessary to make appropriate decisions. Individuals with a high level of alexithymia lack the ability to assess their own motives and also misinterpret the emotional state of other people or understand it only formally," said Dean of the MSUPE Legal Psychology Faculty Nikolai Dvoryanchikov.
The university experts' research results can be used for differential diagnosis of people with pedophilia and to develop preventive and therapeutic programs as well as for measures to prevent sexual crime and regulatory models for expert practice.