Although what causes pedophilia is not yet known, researchers began reporting a series of findings linking pedophilia with brain structure and function, beginning in 2002. Testing individuals from a variety of referral sources inside and outside the criminal justice system as well as controls, these studies found associations between pedophilia and lower IQs, poorer scores on memory tests, greater rates of non-right-handedness, greater rates of school grade failure over and above the IQ differences, lesser physical height, greater probability of having suffered childhood head injuries resulting in unconsciousness, and several differences in MRI-detected brain structures.
Such studies suggest that there are one or more neurological characteristics present at birth that cause or increase the likelihood of being pedophilic. Some studies have found that pedophiles are less cognitively impaired than non-pedophilic child molesters. A 2011 study reported that pedophilic child molesters had deficits in response inhibition, but no deficits in memory or cognitive flexibility. Evidence of familial transmittability "suggests, but does not prove that genetic factors are responsible" for the development of pedophilia. A 2015 study indicated that pedophilic offenders have a normal IQ.
Another study, using structural MRI, indicated that male pedophiles have a lower volume of white matter than a control group. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has indicated that child molesters diagnosed with pedophilia have reduced activation of the hypothalamus as compared with non-pedophilic persons when viewing sexually arousing pictures of adults. A 2008 functional neuroimaging study notes that central processing of sexual stimuli in heterosexual "paedophile forensic inpatients" may be altered by a disturbance in the prefrontal networks, which "may be associated with stimulus-controlled behaviours, such as sexual compulsive behaviours". The findings may also suggest "a dysfunction at the cognitive stage of sexual arousal processing".
Blanchard, Cantor, and Robichaud (2006) reviewed the research that attempted to identify hormonal aspects of pedophiles. They concluded that there is some evidence that pedophilic men have less testosterone than controls, but that the research is of poor quality and that it is difficult to draw any firm conclusion from it.
While not causes of pedophilia themselves, childhood abuse by adults or comorbid psychiatric illnesses—such as personality disorders and substance abuse—are risk factors for acting on pedophilic urges. Blanchard, Cantor, and Robichaud addressed comorbid psychiatric illnesses that, "The theoretical implications are not so clear. Do particular genes or noxious factors in the prenatal environment predispose a male to develop both affective disorders and pedophilia, or do the frustration, danger, and isolation engendered by unacceptable sexual desires—or their occasional furtive satisfaction—lead to anxiety and despair?" They indicated that, because they previously found mothers of pedophiles to be more likely to have undergone psychiatric treatment, the genetic possibility is more likely.
A study analyzing the sexual fantasies of 200 heterosexual men by using the Wilson Sex Fantasy Questionnaire exam determined that males with a pronounced degree of paraphilic interest (including pedophilia) had a greater number of older brothers, a high 2D:4D digit ratio (which would indicate low prenatal androgen exposure), and an elevated probability of being left-handed, suggesting that disturbed hemispheric brain lateralization may play a role in deviant attractions.