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How to spot a murderer's brain

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If this science was proven, how would you like to see it applied? Scan convincted criminal minds before sentencing? Or scan the mentall ill? Or troublemakers? Or what about everyone at a certain age? Do you see this being abused in some sci-fi way?

How to spot a murderer's brain

Do your genes, rather than upbringing, determine whether you will become a criminal? Adrian Raine believed so – and breaking that taboo put him on collision course with the world of science

Scans of a normal brain, left, beside that of murderer Antonio Bustamante
Scans of a normal brain, left, beside that of murderer Antonio Bustamante, who was spared the death penalty after a jury was shown these pictures. Photograph: Public domain

In 1987, Adrian Raine, who describes himself as a neurocriminologist, moved from Britain to the US. His emigration was prompted by two things. The first was a sense of banging his head against a wall. Raine, who grew up in Darlington and is now a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, was a researcher of the biological basis for criminal behaviour, which, with its echoes of Nazi eugenics, was perhaps the most taboo of all academic disciplines.

In Britain, the causes of crime were allowed to be exclusively social and environmental, the result of disturbed or impoverished nurture, rather than fated and genetic nature. To suggest otherwise, as Raine felt compelled to, having studied under Richard Dawkins and been persuaded of the "all-embracing influence of evolution on behaviour", was to doom yourself to an absence of funding. In America, there seemed more open-mindedness on the question and, as a result, more money to explore it. There was also another good reason why Raine headed initially to California: there were more murderers to study than there were at home.

When Raine started doing brain scans of murderers in American prisons, he was among the first researchers to apply the evolving science of brain imaging to violent criminality. His most comprehensive study, in 1994, was still, necessarily, a small sample. He conducted PET [positron emission tomography] scans of 41 convicted killers and paired them with a "normal" control group of 41 people of similar age and profile. However limited the control, the colour images, which showed metabolic activity in different parts of the brain, appeared striking in comparison. In particular, the murderers' brains showed what appeared to be a significant reduction in the development of the prefrontal cortex, "the executive function" of the brain, compared with the control group.

The advancing understanding of neuroscience suggested that such a deficiency would result in an increased likelihood of a number of behaviours: less control over the limbic system that generates primal emotions such as anger and rage; a greater addiction to risk; a reduction in self-control; and poor problem-solving skills, all traits that might predispose a person to violence.

Even two decades ago, these were difficult findings to publish, however. When Raine presented a far less controversial paper in 1994 to a peer group, one that showed a combination of birth complications and early maternal rejection in babies had significant correlation with individuals becoming violent offenders 18 years later, it was denounced as "racist and ideologically motivated" and, according to Nature magazine, was simply further strong evidence that "the uproar surrounding attempts to find biological causes for social problems will continue". Similarly, when, 15 years ago, at the urging of his friend Jonathan Kellerman, the child psychologist and crime writer, Raine put together a proposal for a book on some of his scientific findings, no publisher would touch it. That book,The Anatomy of Violence, a clear-headed, evidence-based and carefully provocative account of Raine's 35 years of study, has only now appeared.

Rest of story at link

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by on May. 12, 2013 at 11:10 AM
Replies (11-19):
by Ruby Member on May. 12, 2013 at 1:23 PM
1 mom liked this

So what if they did institute a brain scan for every individual at a certain age and find those with the "criminal brain"...what do they do with them then? Lock them up even if they haven't committed a crime, sentence them to death because they MIGHT commit a crime, what type of intervention would be appropriate if any, perhaps track every move they make from then on?  There really are way to many ways in which those findings could be abused

by on May. 12, 2013 at 1:30 PM
1 mom liked this
Interesting. While I belive nature is very powerful, I do not see it as the only driving force. Nurture has the ability to make or break nature and vice versa. If you discover your child has the MAOA knockout gene should you simply give up because nature dictates your child is more aggressive? Personality is not entirely formed on one playing field.
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by on May. 12, 2013 at 1:36 PM
To answer the question posted by the OP...

There is a great deal of research and the genetics of behaviour. I have no doubt they will continue to identify genes and brain differences in our behaviours. I think, if used properly, the knowledge could be used in the development of more targeted treatment methods.
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by René on May. 12, 2013 at 1:40 PM

I really believe this and I also believe that where one person with lower frontal lobe function will choose to kill does not mean all will.

Quoting krysstizzle:

Nature AND nurture. 

Not nature vs. nurture. 

Seems most of the study of the brain/psychology/etc. points to that, anyway.

eta: generally speaking and obviously not in every single case. 

How far you go in life depends on your being: tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of both the weak and strong.  Because someday in life you would have been one or all of these.  GeorgeWashingtonCarver

by Ruby Member on May. 12, 2013 at 3:54 PM
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It is insufficient to show that some murderers have brain scans that are significantly different from those of most normal people.

You'd need to show that nobody else with those type of different brain scans ISN'T a murderer.

For example, what the scan might actually be picking up is impulsivity, or low IQ, or any number of other things that correlate with murder.

by on May. 12, 2013 at 10:27 PM
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by on May. 12, 2013 at 10:32 PM

.... my FD is going in for a brain scan within the next couple of months. (state ordered)

by on May. 12, 2013 at 11:14 PM
I see it being abused in defense cases, where anyone who has committed a murder can go in for a brain scan, and if there are any abnormalities that appear similar to that of a "murderer's brain," they will use that as a medical defense. He couldn't help himself, he's got lowered frontal-lobe functioning. He has less impulse control as a result of this "brain disorder." I think the only way this should be used is for research purposes. Any other practical applications leave tons of room for abuse.
by Platinum Member on May. 12, 2013 at 11:17 PM
You should listen to the interview with Raine on Fresh Air (NPR), really interesting.
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