Pedophilia Viewed in Terms of Evolutionary Psychology

by Thomas Robertson
(Beijing, China)

Read the following list of seemingly unconnected findings and see if you can draw a conclusion:

■ Fathers and stepfathers who have cared for their children since infancy are found disproportionately seldom in incest studies (Kaufman, Peck, & Taguiri 1954).

■ Stepfathers are more likely to molest girls than are fathers (Finkelhor 1979: 122).

■ Uncles appear disproportionately frequently in incest cases (Russell 1986: 215).

■ Stepgrandfathers have a higher record of sexual abuse than grandfathers, in both number and degree (Margolin 1992).

■ A sexual abuser in a single-subject study (Stevenson & Wolpe 1960) was the father of two girls whom he did not abuse.

■ Although adult/child sex was permitted in pre-Captain Cook Hawaii, adults seldom had sex with children whom they had known since infancy (Diamond 1990).

■ Among nonhuman primates, an adult male avoids mating with a female young enough to be his daughter if the male is a long-term resident in the same group as the younger female (Anderson & Bielert 1990).

All of these isolated facts point to one conclusion: the experience of watching a child grow up could have a salutary effect on one's view of that child. We can call this the Kaufman effect.

Now read the following list of seemingly unconnected findings and see if you can draw another conclusion:

■ In a Nineteenth Century study (Krafft-Ebing 1886 1965: 415), sexual abuse was reported as more prevalent in large cities than in small towns and rural areas.

■ Pedophile subjects are likely to be the youngest in the family (Bernard 1975; Raboch & Raboch 1986).

■ Only 4% of a sample of sexual abusers had children of their own (Bernard 1975).

■ In a study of mother/newborn bonding (de Chateau 1976), mothers allowed bonding showed more holding, hugging, and looking at the infants than mothers not allowed bonding. Infants in this group, infants smiled more and cried less three months later.

■ Among the Kimam-Papuan tribe of Melanesia, which practices ritual pederasty, the father of a newborn is separated from both his wife and his baby for the first 2-3 months (Serpenti 1984).

■ Men who have had extensive experience with children appear disproportionately seldom as child molesters (McCaghy 1967).

■ Those sexual abusers who have had experience with children tend to be less harmful than sexual abusers who have not (McCaghy 1967).

These isolated facts point to another conclusion: the experience of watching children grow up could have a salutary effect on one's view of children in general. We can call this the Krafft-Ebing effect.

How did the Kaufman and Krafft-Ebing effects come into existence? We can only speculate, but here is a possibility: from prehistoric times to historically recent times, almost every individual lived his entire life in either an extended family or a tribe. Everyone had a chance to assist in a child's upbringing.

In recent times, however, nuclear families and single apartments came into being, which means that some adults take little part in the upbringing of children.

In effect, then, civilization and technology have brought us to the nuclear family system. Evolution, as slow as it is, is still set on the nuclear family system. (*ed. note: I think he means "still set on the extended family system.")

The extended family system prevented us from suffering not only pedophilia, but a whole host of other psychosexual problems. We all grew up with boys, girls, men, and women. In the nuclear family system, this is no longer true, but we continue to need boys, girls, men, and women. When all four groups are not present, we may find ourselves using another group as a surrogate. See the chart for an explanation.

What would be a good solution? We can't go back to the extended family system, because civilization and technology have us stranded permanently in nuclear families.

Perhaps we need more and better chapters of the Big Brother/Big Sister Program, the Foster Grandparents Program, and other programs along the same line.


Anderson, C. M. & Bielert, C. 1990. Adolescent/adult copulatory behavior in nonhuman primates. In Feierman, ed. 1990: 176-200.

Bernard, F. 1975. An enquiry among a group of pedophiles. Journal of Sex Research 11: 242-255.

de Chateau, P. 1976. The influence of early contact on maternal and infant behaviour in primaparae. Birth and the Family Journal 3, 4: 149-155.

Diamond, M. 1990. Selected cross-generational sexual behavior in traditional Hawai'i: A sexological ethnography. In Feierman, ed. 1990: 422-444.

Feierman, J. R. 1990. Pedophilia: Biosocial dimensions. New York: Springer-Verlang.

Finkelhor, D. 1979. Sexually victimized children. New York: Free Press.

Kaufman, I.; Peck, A. L.; & Taguiri, C. K. 1954. The family constellation and overt incestuous relations between father and daughter. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 24: 266-277.

Krafft-Ebing, R. von. 1886 1965. Psychopathia sexualis: A medico-forensic study. New York: Pioneer.

Margolin, L. 1992. Sexual abuse by grandparents. Child Abuse and Neglect 16: 735-741.

McCaghy, C. H. 1967. Child molesters: A study of their careers as deviants. In Clenard, M. B. & Quinney, R., eds. Criminal behavior systems: A typology. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston: 75-88.

Raboch, J. & Raboch, J. 1986. Number of siblings and birth order of sexually dysfunctional males and sexual delinquents. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy 12: 73-76.

Russell, D. E. H. 1986. The secret trauma: Incest in the lives of girls and women. New York: Basic Books.

Serpenti, L. 1984. The ritual meaning of homosexuality and pedophilia among the Kimam-Papuans of South Irian Jaya. In Herdt, G. H., ed. Ritualized homosexuality in Melanesia. Berkeley: University of California Press: 292-317.

Stevenson, I. & Wolpe, J. 1960. Recovery from sexual deviations through overcoming non-sexual neurotic responses. American Journal of Psychiatry 116: 737-742.

Comments for Pedophilia Viewed in Terms of Evolutionary Psychology

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Oct 17, 2016
Westermarck Effect tested
by: Paul Pavao

This study says the Westermarck Effect is real for women, but not real for men. Faces resembling brothers were less desirable to women, but faces resembling sisters were more attractive to men. They did not try faces resembling sons or daughters.

Urszula M. Marcinkowskaa, Fhionna R. Mooreb and Markus J. Rantalaa. (2013). An Experimental Test of the Westermarck Effect. _Behavioral Ecology_. Retrieved from

Oct 06, 2016
by: Anonymous

Does anyone have the reference for the Kaufman effect? Thanks

Feb 27, 2015
Westermarck effect
by: Samuel

The Kaufman effect and the Kraft-Ebbing effect are better known as the Westermarck effect:

Jul 05, 2013
by: Thomas Robertson

Never heard that before.
Can you document that?

Jul 04, 2013
somewhat off the mark
by: Anonymous

actually pedophilia and rate of polygamy are connected positively by country

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