April 8, 2013
Imagine a society where your brain can be scanned to see if you are a danger — because the scan can predict that you are likely to commit crime. This may sound like a sci-fi movie but the brain scanning technique already exists, according to a new study conducted by the Mind Research Network (MRN) in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The research, just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, investigated impulsive and antisocial behavior and centered on the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), a portion of the brain that deals with regulating behavior and impulsivity. By looking at prison inmates, the scientists claim they were able to identify inmates with relatively low anterior cingulate activity and show these people were twice as likely to commit crimes in the future as inmates with higher brain activity in this region.
But this is brain science and has no real ramifications about how a government might one day use this information to decide who is, in a sense, a criminal before they even commit a crime, right? Maybe not.
The push to use brain scans to predict crime
Consider what Dr. Kent A. Kiehl, who was senior author on the study, director of mobile imaging at MRN and an associate professor of psychology at the University of New Mexico, had to say about the study’s results. “These findings have incredibly significant ramifications for the future of how our society deals with criminal justice and offenders,” Kiehl noted in a media statement.
“Not only does this study give us a tool to predict which criminals may reoffend and which ones will not reoffend, it also provides a path forward for steering offenders into more effective targeted therapies to reduce the risk of future criminal activity.”
In all, the new study looked at 96 adult male criminal offenders between the ages of 20 and 52 who volunteered to be research subjects. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) collected neuroimaging data as the inmate volunteers completed a series of mental tests while their brains were scanned. Then the research subjects were followed over a period of up to four years after being released from prison. Kiehl explained that the scan provided “.. a look into who is more likely to demonstrate impulsive and anti-social behavior …”
“These results point the way toward a promising method of neuro-prediction with great practical potential in the legal system,” Dr. Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Stillman Professor of Practical Ethics in the Philosophy Department and the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University, who collaborated on the study, said in a press statement. “Much more work needs to be done, but this line of research could help to make our criminal justice system more effective.”
According to the new study, the ACC of the brain is “associated with error processing, conflict monitoring, response selection, and avoidance learning,” and ACC-damaged patients have been classed as having an “acquired psychopathic personality.”
The four-year study was supported by grants from two US government agencies — the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) — as well as pilot funds by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Law and Neuroscience Project.
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This article was posted: Monday, April 8, 2013 at 5:54 am