Child sexual offenders’ recognition of facial affect: are offenders less sensitive to emotions in children?
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Science
Understanding the risk factors that contribute to sexual offending against children is an important topic for research. The present study set out to examine whether deficits in emotion recognition might contribute to sexual offending, by testing if child sexual offenders were impaired in their recognition of facial expressions of emotion, particularly with children, relative to non-offender controls. To do this, we tested 49 child sexual offenders and 46 non-offender controls on their ability to recognise facial expressions of emotion using photographs of both adults and children posing emotions from the Radboud Faces Database (Langner et al., 2010). We created continua along six emotion pairs (e.g. happiness-sadness) in 10% increments, from the emotions of sadness, anger, happiness, and fear, with morphing software. Using signal detection analyses, we found that across the emotion pairs, non-offenders were significantly better able to discriminate between emotions than offenders, although there were no significant differences within individual emotion pairs, and was not significant with either age or level of education as a covariate. When discriminating between fear and anger, non-offenders showed a significant bias towards labeling an emotion as fear when judging male faces, whereas offenders did not, and this difference remained significant with age, level of education and socioeconomic status as covariates. Additionally, both groups showed a strong bias towards labeling an emotion as anger when judging female faces. Thus sexual offenders were more likely to identify anger rather than fear with male faces, suggesting that sexual offenders lack an inhibition against recognising anger in males that non-offenders showed. Overall, contrary to our predictions, we found no evidence to indicate that child sexual offenders showed a specific deficit in their recognition of emotions in children. However, future research should continue to examine this area and its potential link to recidivism.