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Brain Scans Can Predict Criminal Behavior

The experts, from the Mind Research Network in New Mexico, conducted research involving nearly 100 male prisoners who were given a functional MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan at the time of their release.

The team, led by Kent Kiehl, examined the prisoners’ anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) – an area located at the front of the brain that is responsible for making decisions.

The scientists wanted to analyze the inmates’ brains for impulsivity. They were asked to quickly press a button when the letter X appeared on a computer screen, and when they saw the letter K, to do nothing. Only 16% of the time the letter K appeared so that the men would not expect it.

Results showed that the subjects who made more errors on the task had lower activity in the ACC. This indicates an inclination to act upon impulses without thinking.

After being released from prison, the men were followed up for four years.

According to the investigators, during the task, the convicts who had a lower level of activity in the ACC during the task had a higher risk of being re-arrested within the next four years.

Sixty percent of those with lower ACC levels of activity were re-arrested, while 46% of those with normal levels of ACC were.

The experts accounted for risk factors such as:

  • age
  • drug and alcohol abuse
  • psychopathic traits

The men who had lower levels of ACC activity were re-arrested 2.6 times more for all crimes and 4.3 times more for nonviolent crimes.

However, Kiehl pointed out that the technique is not yet precise enough to be used in evaluations in the real-world. Although the method does not tell us anything about an individual’s behavior, and just about groups of people, it does bring us a step closer to being able to predict certain behaviors.

In an abstract published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the authors wrote:

“Here we show that error-related brain activity elicited during performance of an inhibitory task prospectively predicted subsequent rearrest among adult offenders within 4 y of release. The odds that an offender with relatively low anterior cingulate activity would be rearrested were approximately double that of an offender with high activity in this region, holding constant other observed risk factors. These results suggest a potential neurocognitive biomarker for persistent antisocial behavior.”

Previous research on criminal behavior

A report from earlier this year by the University of Otago suggested that excessive TV viewing as a child may lead to violent behavior later in life.

A study from 2012 indicated that genes are a strong predictor of whether a person strays into a life of crime.

Research published in SAGE Open revealed that underage drinking laws reduce future criminal behavior.

In a study published in PLoS Medicine experts showed that exposure to lead as a child is linked to criminal behavior as an adult.

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Brain scans can predict whether convicted felons are likely to engage in criminal behavior in the future, according to neuroscientists.
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