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Tumor-induced Pedophilia
October 21, 2002 8:42 AM   Subscribe

Tumor-induced Pedophilia - the BBC reports on an american man who, at the age of 40, developed completely uncontrollable and ammoral sexual impulses after developing a tumor in the right lobe of the orbifrontal cortex. After the tumor was removed, he returned to normal. More inside...
posted by Irontom (28 comments total)

 
This one is liable to generate some controversy, I think. However, one of the neurologists who treated this guy had a good quote: "But if someone argues that every paedophile needs a MRI, the difference in this case was that the patient had a normal history before he acquired the problem. Most paedophiles develop problems early on in life."

Here's a new scientist link that is essentially the same story. I googled for a couple of minutes, but couldn't come up with anything else.

Can anyone else provide any other links on this one?
posted by Irontom at 8:43 AM on October 21, 2002


From the second link: while the man felt that his new behaviour was unacceptable, "in his words, the 'pleasure principle' overrode his restraint".

Doesn't that imply that there was something inately pleasurable already at work, and only social mores were preventing action beforehand, so the drive was always there, but only the restraint was removed?
posted by HTuttle at 8:57 AM on October 21, 2002


and the difference is what? If a man has certain ethics and morals that prevent him from doing things society deems bad -- and those restraints are removed by a brain tumour, how is that any different than if the brain tumour enhanced the 'pleasure' to a level greater than his ethics could control? In the end, it's really the same thing.

I'm kind of creeped out now by the possibility that this might lead to some people seeking lobotomies as a form of punishment for paedophilia.
posted by mkn at 9:13 AM on October 21, 2002


Also it wasn't just paedophilia - he became obsessed with sex and was afraid he'd rape his landlady... the article said the tumor was in the part of the brain that handles judgment and impulse control, so yes HTuttle.

Still, an interesting case - in the end everything is due to how what sort of brains we happened to be born with, or IOW what sort of nature we have. For some reason the physical reality of people having 'natures' makes it more difficult for us to consider it the responsibility of the person with the nature - we start saying, it's not his fault, it's his brain: but you can't differentiate a personality from its physical reality (the brain).
posted by mdn at 9:15 AM on October 21, 2002


I'd love to see how a fundamentalist would react to this news. I think that it would be very difficult to make sense out of for them.
posted by goethean at 9:30 AM on October 21, 2002


Its really a bit like one of the most famous brain damage cases of all.

Htuttle said: so the drive was always there, but only the restraint was removed?.

Probably, but I think you'd find that pretty much anyone with the right frontal lobe damage would do horrible things. I'd argue everyone has a slew of downright evil thoughts flying around in their head (even if only as flickers), but what separates the good people from the bad is the very restraint (aka filter) you mention.
posted by malphigian at 9:40 AM on October 21, 2002


Er, calrification: The filter is the frontal lobe, and by "right frontal lobe damage" I didn't mean damage to the right side of the frontal lobe, I meant the certain type of damage that breaks our filters on behavior.
posted by malphigian at 9:42 AM on October 21, 2002


chalk one up for nature! scientific american frontiers (with alan alda :) just had an episode about all this stuff.
posted by kliuless at 9:52 AM on October 21, 2002


I wonder if his wife took him back.

I mean, it's horrible what he did, but it's pretty clear it was the tumor, not him, in this case. Does he warrant sympathy? Or should he be villified?
posted by rich at 9:56 AM on October 21, 2002


A judge ordered him to sign up to a Sexaholics Anonymous rehabilitation programme

Help me, I'm addicted to Sexahol!

Seriously, though, great article. The human brain is a terrifying, beautiful organ that I doubt will ever cease to amaze.
posted by mikrophon at 9:57 AM on October 21, 2002


It doesn't sound like they did a lobotomy, sounds like a craniotomy. BIG difference. This will be conversation for me at work today, that's for sure.
posted by RunsWithBandageScissors at 9:58 AM on October 21, 2002


it was the tumor, not him, in this case.

i'm not a tumor! /schwarzenegger channeling the elephan man :D
posted by kliuless at 10:02 AM on October 21, 2002


The right frontal lobe could be the source of good and evil
posted by stbalbach at 10:07 AM on October 21, 2002


So what is the moral dilemma with pedophilia? Have we changed so much since the Romans?
posted by four panels at 10:25 AM on October 21, 2002


So what is the moral dilemma with pedophilia? Have we changed so much since the Romans?

Oh dear. This could get messy. *ducks for cover*.
posted by Ufez Jones at 10:32 AM on October 21, 2002


We don't do lobotomies anymore. And craniotomy simply means opening the skull... it can apply to any brain surgery. The only really dramatic, brain-removal surgeries we do anymore are to remove tumors or cure intractable seizure disorders.

I guess I'm not particularly surprised or fascinated by this story since I've believed for a long time that we are, for the most part, our brains. In my view, this guy could be forgiven for his behavior.

The larger question is more difficult to answer--whether a more subtly aberrant brain should be held responsible for its actions.
posted by mert at 10:39 AM on October 21, 2002


Have we changed so much since the Romans?

In a word, yes. We no longer have institutionalized slavery, ruthless dictators and mass executions which at one time were considered normal and morally accepted.

Although some Roman priests might agree with your sentiment.
posted by stbalbach at 10:53 AM on October 21, 2002


stbalbach - i trust you are being facetious?

'We no longer have institutionalized slavery, ruthless dictators and mass executions'
posted by asok at 11:18 AM on October 21, 2002


Still, an interesting case - in the end everything is due to how what sort of brains we happened to be born with, or IOW what sort of nature we have. For some reason the physical reality of people having 'natures' makes it more difficult for us to consider it the responsibility of the person with the nature - we start saying, it's not his fault, it's his brain: but you can't differentiate a personality from its physical reality (the brain).

While not addressing this specific case, the newly-published The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker discusses a similar subject:
[...] many intellectuals have denied the existence of human nature and instead have embraced three dogmas: The Blank Slate (the mind has no innate traits), The Noble Savage (people are born good and corrupted by society), and The Ghost in the Machine (each of us has a soul that makes choices free from biology). Each dogma carries a moral burden, so their defenders have engaged in desperate tactics to discredit the scientists who are now challenging them. (from the publisher's description).
There was an interesting interview with the author on NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday.
posted by moonbiter at 11:36 AM on October 21, 2002


Oh, yeah, and Discover magazine printed an excerpt of the book in their October edition.
posted by moonbiter at 11:46 AM on October 21, 2002


asok:

Okay, hurl the brickbats at me: The news about forced child labor in the African chocolate industry is horrible, and some powerful force needs to eradicate that practice. But to use that to say that we haven't changed since Roman times, that institutionalized slavery is still a central feature of our society, is a bit of sophistry.

I'm sure there are some atrocious de facto slavery arrangements made with illegal immigrants and sweatshops right here in the U.S.A. If, however, any creditable sociologist thereby classified the U.S. as a nation that sanctions slavery, you'd know that sociologist was just being glib or had a specific agenda or both.
posted by argybarg at 11:48 AM on October 21, 2002


"My brain? It's my second favorite organ!" -Woody Allen
posted by MJoachim at 2:52 PM on October 21, 2002


Salon article from last year:
According to your book, three things intersect to create a killer: mental illness, neurological damage and child abuse. Are all three always there?

Two-thirds of murderers have all three factors, and the others have two of the three. It's pretty clear that mental illness is not enough to cause violence because most people who are mentally ill are not violent. It's also evident that neurological damage is not enough to cause violence because the vast majority of people who are neurologically impaired are not violent. And it's clear that the experience of horrendous child abuse is not enough to cause violence because most people who are abused that way are not violent. Yet, most violent people have these three factors, or two of the three. That's an indisputable fact.

The theory that explains it is that abuse sets up an impulse toward violence that a good brain can control. If you get the abuse and the neurological damage and mental illness, then violent impulses are not easy to check. That's why they are expressed under stress or at times of jealousy or anger.

[...] You give the example of Lewis Culpepper, who sexually abused a 5-year-old girl. You explain that the brain damage that made him able to do that was caused by a car accident.

He was sexually abused for the first 15 years of his life; then he lived 15 years as a relatively good citizen, held a stable job as a mechanic and married a woman who had been previously married and had a child. She considered him to be a good husband. He was a responsible father. But all that time he was having fantasies of a pedophilic nature, which he never acted on. Then he was involved in this automobile accident where his frontal lobes were destroyed. He seemed to be completely normal, was discharged from the hospital and was recuperating at home. Shortly after, he began to have a sexual relationship with his 5-year-old girl [his stepdaughter]. That continued for a year until her mother found out. It seemed so clear in that case that the destruction of his frontal lobes had destroyed his capacity to check those pedophilic fantasies and to realize that there were consequences to acting on them.
So this isn't the first such case heard of.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 3:26 PM on October 21, 2002


We don't do lobotomies anymore. Yes, they are still done. Check out Lobotomy.
posted by RunsWithBandageScissors at 9:30 PM on October 21, 2002


How many of the thousands of people executed around the world had brain tumours ( or some other undetected physical condition ) that caused their behaviour and which, if removed, would have made them normal human beings ?

I don't know. But neither do you.
posted by godidog at 1:46 AM on October 22, 2002


I have always thought that we would do well to have some honor for honorable suicide here in the US, rather than nearly universally condemn it as we do now. Many, many pedophiles, for example, know that what they are doing is terribly harmful and yet also feel a very strong compulsion. I would have respect for such a person who, if unable to obtain a satisfactory lock-down situation (which may be our society's responsibility to provide to such an unfortunate), committed suicide.
posted by loafingcactus at 8:09 AM on October 22, 2002


Doesn't that imply that there was something inately pleasurable already at work, and only social mores were preventing action beforehand, so the drive was always there, but only the restraint was removed

This case is interesting to me because my maternal grandfather developed a brain tumor in his forties. He was a Methodist minister in Chicago. As the tumor grew larger, his behavior grew more violent and frightening: he went from being the kindest, most intellectual of men to a beast who spouted crude filth from the pulpit for hours. He was a well beloved man-- his congregation forgave him, as did his wife and 6 children when he began beating them with his belt. He was finally committed and died of starvation in the insane asylum, but his memory is still revered 50 years later.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 12:25 PM on October 22, 2002


Change in behavior often is a side-effect of a brain tumor. I had a co-worker whose husband came home one day and stated out-of-the-blue in a *happy* marriage "I don't want to be married anymore". After the bitter divorce, not understanding where all of this came from (she is a R.N.), he was diagnosed as having a cancerous brain tumor that probably brought on his change in behavior (at least 2 yrs. had passed).
posted by RunsWithBandageScissors at 9:00 PM on October 22, 2002


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