Unraveling the Neuropsychological Underpinnings of Self-Regulation Problems in Individuals Convicted of Sexual Offenses Against Children: A Look Into Reinforcement Learning


  • Tineke Dillien
  • Inti A. Brazil
  • Bernard Sabbe
  • Kris Goethals


Self-regulation problems are critically involved in the onset and the maintenance of sexual offending behavior against children. Studying the neuropsychological underpinnings of these problems could help deepen our understanding of this contributing factor and, thus, of sexual offending behavior. Whereas most studies have examined executive functioning in relation to self-regulation problems in individuals convicted of sexual offenses against children (ISOCs), this review aimed to provide an overview of what is known about another process that is involved in self-regulation, that is reinforcement learning. The results of this review suggested that ISOCs are impaired in their ability to acquire and reverse stimulus-reward and stimulus-punishment associations relative to nonoffender controls, but similar to a control group of individuals convicted of nonsexual violent offenses. These reinforcement learning impairments were found to be more pronounced in nonpedophilic ISOCs than in pedophilic ISOCs. By paving the way towards a deeper understanding of the self-regulation problems seen in ISOCs, this review can help guide treatment strategies for ISOCs.