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What were they thinking? An exploration of child sexual offenders' beliefs using a lexical decision task

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Cognitive distortions have been afforded a key role in the offending behaviour of child sexual offenders. While the mechanisms underlying cognitive distortions are not fully understood, they are generally thought to reflect entrenched beliefs that distinguish child sexual offenders from other individuals. We investigated this hypothesis using a robust experimental technique called the lexical decision task. Child sexual offenders, offender controls, and non-offender controls completed a lexical decision task in which they responded to words that completed sentences in either an offence-supportive or nonoffence-supportive manner. Contrary to predictions, child sexual offenders did not respond faster to words that were consistent with offence-supportive beliefs, relative to controls. However, they did show accelerated recognition for word stems supporting external locus of control beliefs. These results highlight the need to use cognitive experimental methods to study child sexual offenders' beliefs, and the importance of investigating potential alternative drivers of cognitive distortions.

Keywords: beliefs; child molesters; child sexual offenders; cognition; cognitive distortions; lexical decision task

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand 2: Psychology Department, Keynes College, University of Kent, Canterbury, UK

Publication date: 2008-08-01

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