The suppression of sexual thoughts by child molesters: A preliminary investigation

Lucy Johnston, Stephen M. Hudson, Tony Ward

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


The cognitive and emotional demands of modern life mean that it has become increasingly important to learn how to manage effectively our mental processes and behavior. Central to the achievement of mental control is the suppression, or inhibition, of unwanted or inappropriate thoughts or behaviors. Our recent work has considered the potential utility of instructing individuals to suppress sexually deviant thoughts as a therapy technique for sexual offenders. Of special concern was the subsequent hyperaccessibility, or "rebound," of the very thoughts which were previously suppressed. The present study is a preliminary experimental investigation of the ability of incarcerated child molesters to suppress unwanted sexual thoughts and the subsequent impact of this suppression on the accessibility of the suppressed thoughts. Participants completed an articulated thoughts task under instructions to suppress sex-related thoughts or under no specific instructions. Suppression instructions reduced the incidence of sex-related thoughts. In a subsequent color naming task (Stroop Task), the accessibility of the previously suppressed thoughts was tested. Both sex-related and child-related words were more accessible after prior suppression instructions for preferential child molesters than for either situational child molesters or nonsexual offenders. Implications for treatment of sexual offenders and for offender typology are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)303-319
Number of pages17
JournalSexual Abuse: Journal of Research and Treatment
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1997
Externally publishedYes


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