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Three Dartmouth College psychology professors whose research involved observations on sex and temptation have been accused of sexual misconduct, according to state and school authorities.

Todd Heatherton, Bill Kelley, and Paul Whalen are subject to a criminal investigation by New Hampshire’s attorney general and the state police, as well as the Grafton County attorney and sheriff’s office, and the local Hanover police, the Dartmouth officials announced in a release last week.

The state law enforcement investigation began with a series of inquiries from the campus newspaper The Dartmouth two weeks ago. The school told the student reporters the three professors were on paid leave and restricted from the campus due to “allegations of serious misconduct.”

Then last week, the school and the state authorities jointly confirmed that a criminal investigation was underway into allegations of sexual misconduct against the trio – though they did not elaborate further.

“Because this is now a criminal investigation, we are constrained in providing further details at this time,” said Gordon J. MacDonald, the New Hampshire Attorney General, in a statement Oct. 31. “We will provide further information when we can do so, consistent with our obligation to ensure the integrity of the investigation. At this time, we have no basis to conclude that there is a threat to the general public.”

“Dartmouth is cooperating with law enforcement,” said Diana Lawrence, a spokeswoman for the school. “From the outset of our investigations, we have encouraged the reporting of possible crimes to law enforcement and have offered resources to support that reporting.”

The college newspaper had started asking questions about the three professors when posters were distributed around the campus on Oct. 24 asking, “Where is Prof. Paul Whalen?” and “Where is Prof. Bill Kelley?”

Heatherton is the director of the Center for Social Brain Sciences at the school. He lists on his Dartmouth profile that his works in progress include “Effects of Social Context on the Neural Correlates of Cue Reactivity” and the “Neural Correlates of Social Rejection and Social Memory.”

Whalen is listed as a professor in the same center, and lists the amygdala (the part of the brain involved in emotions and motivations) among his fields of expertise.

Kelley is another full professor in the Center, and he writes on his faculty page that he is an investigator of human memory formation, the human sense of self, perception of reward, and self-regulation of short-term rewards in context of maladaptive habits.

Heatherton has been on an unrelated sabbatical - and is not considered a threat to campus safety and has even continued to work with current graduate students, said Julie Moore, his attorney, in a statement to Laboratory Equipment.

"Dr. Heatherton is confident that he has not violated any written policy of Dartmouth, inclding policies relating to sexual misconduct and sexual harassment," said the lawyer's statement. "He has engaged in no sexual relations with any student."

Heatherton and Kelley coauthored two recent studies that involved sex perception and temptation. A 2012 study in the Journal of Neuroscience recruited 58 Dartmouth freshman females at the beginning of their college careers. The students were shown pictures of food and people in sexual scenes or drinking alcohol, while their brains were scanned. The students returned six months later for follow-up scans and surveys. The results were an attempt to predict the risky behaviors of the teens, based on how their actions correlated to their responses to the pictures. A 2014 study in the journal Psychological Science was entitled “Neural Predictors of Giving in to Temptation in Daily Life.” They recruited 31 college-age females from the Dartmouth community and showed them pictures of foods while scanning their brains for neurological changes.

Moore, Heatherton’s attorney, reportedly told a local reporter that the investigation does not involve the professors’ research or teaching.

Moore's statement also mentioned "an out-of-state incident about which Dr. Heatherton was previously questioned." But the attorney said in her statement that Dartmouth has not answered whether the investigation is about that unspecified incident.

Phil Hanlon, Dartmouth's president, said the school's investigation "will not sacrifice fairness or rigor for speed," in a statement sent to the entire Dartmouth community this morning.

"For the sake of all those involved, we are committed to doing this right," Hanlon wrote.

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