Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, Vol. 16, No. 4, October 2004 (
Implicit Cognitive Distortions and Sexual Offending
Grant J. Devilly,
and Tony Ward
This work develops and tests the semantic-motivation hypothesis of sexual offend-
ers’ implicit cognitions. This hypothesis posits that sexual offenders’ cognitive
distortions emerge at the interface between implicit motivation and cognition.
The semantic-motivation hypothesis is used to guide the development of 3 im-
plicit association tests (IATs). These IATs were used to test for the existence of
3 expected child sexual offender implicit cognitive distortions in child sexual of-
fenders (“children as sexual beings,” “uncontrollability of sexuality,” and “sexual
entitlement-bias”). Results showed that child sexual offenders had larger IAT ef-
fects than did mainstream offenders and male and female nonoffenders for the
“children as sexual beings” and the “uncontrollability of sexuality” implicit the-
ories. Child sexual offenders also had a larger IAT effect than male and female
nonoffenders for the “sexual entitlement-bias” implicit theory. Implications for
the semantic-motivation hypothesis are discussed.
KEY WORDS: Implicit Association Test; semantic-motivation; sexual offending; cognitive
Theories that explicate the motivations underlying sexual offending, in gen-
eral, suffer from a lack of supporting empirical evidence. Ward and Keenan (1999)
and Ward (2000) have posited a theory of sexual offender implicit cognitive dis-
tortions that may inform motivational models of sexual offending, but until now
has not been empirically evaluated. The theory also makes a number of tacit
Department of Psychology, University of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
Center for Neuropsychology, Swinburne University, Hawthorn, Victoria, Australia.
School of Psychology, Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand.
To whom correspondence should be addressed either Dr Stephen Mihailides, Department of Psychol-
ogy, University of Melbourne, Victoria 3010, Australia; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or Grant
Devilly, Centre for Neuropsychology, Swinburne University, P.O. Box 218, Hawthorn, Victoria 3122,
Australia; e-mail: email@example.com.
2004 Plenum Publishing Corporation