Developmental theories assume that pedophilia results from adverse childhood experiences: negative socialization, abuse or neglect, inadequate social skills, academic problems, or early sexual experiences.
- A small number of studies of child molesters suggest they may have deficits in social skills. It is believed that these deficits may prevent access to adult partners.
- Most professionals make this suggestion without reporting objective data, or resort to studies of offenders in institutions who may be significantly more inadequate than pedophiles in the general population.
- Some studies have suggested that passivity and feelings of inferiority are correlated with pedophilia. Researchers speculate that these feelings may prevent the pedophile from relating effectively to women. A variation of this theory proposes that pedophilia is due to anxiety or fear toward women.
- The data do not support these theories. Studies have found anywhere from 8% to 47% of homosexual pedophiles (like normal homosexuals) marry.
- No studies have actually tested whether pedophiles fear women. Those who do not marry may simply not be interested in them.
- When feelings of inferiority exist, they may result from social reaction rather than being causal.
- Social learning theory proposes that a boy who is sexually abused by a man learns through the experience to abuse boys himself when he reaches adulthood.
- Studies have found that most boys who are sexually abused do not grow up to become sexually abusive.
- A variation of the above theory speculates that lack of punishment when an adolescent acts sexually with a younger child reinforces pedophilic behavior.
- Again, evidence for this hypothesis is weak and subject to other explanations.
- Attachment theory proposes that insecure family attachment, rejection, fear, and unresolved trauma leads to sexual aggression.
- No solid evidence has been found to support this theory.
Like cognitive theories, all developmental theories suffer from the following shortcomings:
- They are based on studies of sex offenders rather than pedophiles.
- Proposed causes are assumed to apply to all offenders (and pedophiles), but they are often based on studies of only specific groups of offenders.
- Many of these studies are case studies; none are controlled scientific studies.