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.