Cognitive distortion (pseudoscience)

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The concept of cognitive distortion has been used in victimological "pseudoscience" to assert that minor attracted individuals are unusually prone to distorted thinking and rationalisations about their behaviors. The origins of this usage have been described as being political, and probably are motivated by a desire to pathologise political dissent and categorise all minor-attracted people as in need of corrective therapy.

The assertion

Studying child sex offenders, a review of qualitative research studies published between 1982 and 2001 concluded that pedophiles use cognitive distortions to meet personal needs, justifying abuse by making excuses, redefining their actions as love and mutuality, and exploiting the power imbalance inherent in all adult-child relationships.[1] Other cognitive distortions are said to include the idea of "children as sexual beings," "uncontrollability of sexuality," and "sexual entitlement-bias."[2]

Common (purported) cognitive distortions include:[3]

  • Just looking at a naked child is not as bad as touching and will probably not affect the child as much
  • Professionals pursue some people involved in sexual activities with children to make themselves look good
  • Some people turn to sexual activities involving children because they were deprived of sex from adult partners
  • Many men commit sex offences involving children because they were sexually abused as a child
  • Having sexual thoughts and fantasies about a child isn’t all that bad because at least it is not really hurting the child.
  • Children are innocent and want to please adults.
  • For many men their sex offences involving children were the result of stress and the offending behaviour helped to relieve that stress.
  • Children, who have been involved in sexual activities with, and for, adults, will eventually get over it and get on with their lives.


The concept is used by researchers who are themselves prone to cognitive distortion, and rests on the ingrained belief that statements made by minor-attracted people are distorted (no hard evidence is offered), and that these assertions, although subjective and ahistorical, attain the status of "scientific fact". From that point, it is easy to establish that such "distortions" are particularly common among those who express an attraction towards minors, as this fact is already known. The argument has been described as an absurd, self-fulfilling circular.

Agner Fog writes that "The rationale behind cognitive therapy is that the world view of the therapist is believed to be right and when the world view of the patient is different he is said to suffer from cognitive distortion".[4] Shadd and Mann (2006) cast doubt on whether cognitive distortions lead to offending or reoffending. They also argue that the pathologization of cognitive distortions is inappropriate. In their view, excuses are a normal and healthy aspect of human behavior.[5] In his book, Howitt is largely critical of the theories, casting doubt upon their applicability in particular.[6] Gannon and Polaschek claim that "the popularity of the cognitive distortion hypothesis is due to factors other than its empirical validity."[7]


A cognitive distortion is a belief held by an (alleged) "deviant" (such as a BoyLover) which is at odds with/not in agreement with a (usually diametrically opposed) belief held by another person (usually a psychologist, psychiatrist, social worker, etc.), irrespective of the existence of any empirical evidence supporting and/or disproving such a belief.

Examples of (so-called) BoyLover cognitive distortions

  • “I believe that children enjoy sexual activity with an adult whom they like.”
  • “I believe that children seek out sexual activity with an adult whom they like.”
  • “I believe that children often are the aggressors, and initiate the sexual activity with an adult whom they like.”
  • “I think child molesters often get longer sentences than they really should”
  • “Society makes a much bigger deal out of sexual activity with children than it really is”
  • “There is no real manipulation or threat used in a lot of sexual assaults on children”
  • “Caressing a child’s body or genitals usually is not a sexual act”
  • “I believe that sex with children can make the child feel closer to adults”
  • “Having sexual thoughts and fantasies about a child isn’t all that bad because at least it is not really hurting the child”
  • “If a person is attracted to sex with children, he (she) should solve that problem themselves and not talk to professionals”

Empirical evidence from a number of correctly done studies have confirmed that each of the above statements is a true statement, and is not a "cognitive distortion."

Measurements of cognitive distortions

"While a thorough account of all extant research tools related to cognitive distortion lies well beyond the scope and argument of this article, a quick look at the most formalised of measures, namely psychometric scales, may provide an impression of the way in which taboo’s cognitive turn requires offenders to reiterate precisely those pedagogical truisms, conventions and pronouncements the taboo (by way of law, ethics committees, and so on) denies both sexological verification and intellectual controversy. A literature search, conducted to saturation, found no less than sixteen scales purported to pertain to cognitive distortions (myths, implicit theories, justifications) related to childhood sexual agency, reported to be in use from 1984 to 2009. They are listed in Table 1; ten scales were available for examination at item level."

Table 1
Cognitive distortions regarding children and sexuality: Sixteen scales

Abel and Becker Cognition Scale (ABCS); modified (M-ABCS)
Abel et al. (1989: 150-152); Kolton (1993: 73-75)
Adolescent Cognition Scale (ACS)
Becker & Kaplan, revised and adapted in Flores (2002: 116-117)
Attitudes Toward Sex With Children Scale
Cortoni et al. (1991)
Beliefs about Child Sexual Abuse Scale (BACSA)
Jehu, Jehu, Klassen & Gazan (1986) cited in Fischer & Corcoran (1987: 85-87)
Child Sexual Abuse Myth Scale (SCAMS)
Collings (2007: 669-670); Cromer & Goldsmith (2010: 629-630)
Child Molester Scale
Cann et al. (1995), unpublished, cited in McGrath, Cann & Konopasky (1998: 28)
Children and Sex: Cognitive Distortions Scale (CSQ), later incorporated in the Adolescent Sexual Abuser Project (ASAP)
R Beckett ([1987], unpublished)
Children and Sexual Activities (C&SA) questionnaire
Sheldon & Howitt (2007: 214-220)
Cognitive Distortion/Immaturity (CDI) subscale of the Multiphasic Sex Inventory (MSI)
Nichols & Molinder (1984)
Implicit Theory Questionnaire (ITQ)
Ward & Keenan (1999)
Justifications for Sex with Children Scale
W L Marshall (unpublished)
MOLEST scale
Bumby (1996: 51-52)
Pedophile Cognition Scale (PCS)
Neidigh & Krop (1992)
QACSO Offenses Against Children subscale
Unpublished, cited in Gannon,
Keown & Rose (2009)
Sex With Children (SWCH) scale
Mann et al. (2007: 458)
Sexy Children and Sexual Harm subscales of the Hanson Sex Attitude Questionnaire (HSAQ)
Hanson, Gizzarelli & Scott (1994:199-200)
* Victim scale

As observed by discursive and narrative approaches to CD cited above, CD is defined quite variably in terms of logical inference (misperceptions, misinterpretations of reality), value statements, excuses and blame attributions, supposed purposiveness (self-serving rationalization), and perceived targetability (treatment motivation) in a way suggestive of a profession-wide disinterest in such elementary nuances."


  • Diederik F Janssen
  • PINS, 2012, 43, 1-22

See also


External Links

  1. Lawson, L. (2003), "Isolation, gratification, justification: offenders' explanations of child molesting", Issues Ment Health Nurs 24, pages 695–705
  2. Mihailides, S, Devilly GJ, Ward T,. (2004), "Implicit cognitive distortions and sexual offending" Sex Abuse 16,4, pages 333–50
  3. Howitt, D., & Sheldon, K. (2007). "The role of cognitive distortions in paedophilic offending: Internet and contact offenders compared," Psychology, Crime & Law, 13, 469-486.
  4. Fog, A., “Paraphilias and Therapy,” Nordisk Sexologi, vol. 10, no. 4, pp. 236-242, 1992.
  5. Shadd, M. & Mann, R. (2006). "A fundamental attribution error? Rethinking cognitive distortions," Legal and Criminology Psychology, 11(2), 155-177.
  6. Howitt, D., (1995). "Paedophiles and Sexual Offences against Children", John Wiley and Sons, Quoted: "There are dangers, of course, in promoting the view that all child abusers lie and distort. The obvious one is the problem of how to deal with an honest offender."
  7. Gannon, T. A., & Polaschek, D. L. L. (2006). "Cognitive distortions in child molesters: A re-examination of key theories and research," Clinical Psychology Review, 26(8), 1000-1019.