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Distorted Beliefs Linked to Sexual Offending

Ross M. Bartels 


Cognitive distortions are considered an important factor in the aetiology and maintenance of sexual offending behaviour. A principal view within the literature is that these distortions arise from underlying distorted core beliefs about the self, others, and the world. There has been much theoretical and empirical work published on this topic. In spite of this, however, it feels like our movement forward in understanding distorted cognition (and its role in sexual offending) has slowed down. This may be because the literature is affected by overlapping concepts, causing the literature to be a confusing landscape to navigate. It could also be due to our focus on identifying the content of distorted beliefs. This is problematic when we consider the array (and interrelation) of constructs that make up ‘what we think’ (e.g., beliefs, attitudes, memories, schemas, state factors), as well as ‘how we think’ (i.e., cognitive processing, decision-making, appraisals). This talk will provide a brief overview of what we know about distorted beliefs, including details of a recent theoretical multi-mechanism theory of cognitive distortions (Szumski, Bartels, Beech, & Fisher, 2018). This will then be followed by a personality-based framework for how we can think about cognition and its relation to sexual offending moving forward. This framework will help consolidate the various aspects of cognition, place it within a fuller understanding of the person as an individual, and potentially guide assessment and therapeutic work.


Dr Ross Bartels is a Senior Lecturer in Forensic Psychology and lead of ‘Forensic and Clinical Psychology Research Group’ at the University of Lincoln (UK). Drawing upon paradigms and methods used in socio-cognitive psychology, Ross’ research primarily focuses on understanding sexual fantasies, sexual interests, and cognitions related to sexual offending behaviour. He has also contributed to theoretical literature on sexual fantasies and offence-related cognitions. Ross is also interested in the public's perception of people who have offended, as well as those with atypical sexual interests. He has published numerous papers in peer-reviewed journals and book chapters, and has co-edited books in the area of sexual deviance.