Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, Vol. 17, No. 2, April 2005 (
Do Child Molesters Deliberately Fake Good
on Cognitive Distortion Questionnaires? An
Information Processing-Based Investigation
Theresa A. Gannon
and Devon L. L. Polaschek
Researchers and clinicians hypothesize that child molesters hold offence-
supportive beliefs or cognitive distortions that require restructuring for successful
rehabilitation. However, there is little empirical evidence to support this hypothe-
sis. Current questionnaire measures of both untreated and treated child molesters’
cognitive distortions show that these men typically disagree with cognitive distor-
tions. Such ﬁndings, especially prior to treatment, are often interpreted to mean
that child molesters are faking good. In this study we drew on personality-related
research showing that when participants intentionally respond in a socially desir-
able way on questionnaires, they make faster item responses than when answering
honestly. Untreated child molesters, treated child molesters, and two types of con-
trols (nonsexual offenders and nonoffenders) were administered a computerized
cognitive distortion questionnaire and their responses and response times were
recorded. Consistent with previous research, all groups tended to disagree with
the cognitive distortions. However, response time data were surprising; only the
treated child molesters displayed the fake-good pattern of responding signiﬁcantly
faster in rejecting cognitive distortions. We speculate about the implications of
these results for the cognitive distortion hypothesis, and for understanding how
current treatment programs effect cognitive distortion change.
KEY WORDS: cognitive distortion; child molester; faking good; response times; treatment.
Many people ﬁnd it hard to imagine how a man could sexually abuse a
child. Their own abhorrence of such acts suggests to them that in order to of-
fend, perpetrators must hold perceptions and beliefs that are fundamentally dif-
ferent to those held by right-minded people. When child molesters talk about
Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand.
To whom correspondence should be addressed at School of Psychology, Victoria University of
Wellington, PO Box 600, Wellington, New Zealand; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
2005 Springer Science+Business Media, Inc.