Kids' brains may hold clues to future criminals
February 21st, 2011
11:15 AM ET

Kids' brains may hold clues to future criminals

Who is going to grow up to become a criminal or psychopath?

Current research in genetics and neuroscience may point towards answers to this question, opening up a whole host of ethical questions about culpability, justice and treatment.

"Is there truly freedom of will, as the law assumes? Freedom of will may not be as free as many of us may think," said Adrian Raine of the University of Pennsylvania.

Experiments by Raine have found that by looking at the brains of 3-year-old children, scientists could already see signs of potential trouble in the future. Raine discussed this research Monday at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Washington.

Those who had poor amygdala function at that time were more likely to become criminal offenders later in life, in the 20-year time span during which the scientists followed them. The amygdala is an almond-shaped brain area associated with fear, and it appears that a trend among offenders is that fear conditioning is impaired. Researchers did not directly measure amygdala function in a brain scanner, but used the children's fear responses to an anticipated punishment as a proxy for that.

In fact, adult psychopaths appear to have an 18% reduction of the volume of the amygdala compared with non-psychopaths. This difference might explain why psychopaths lack remorse, fear and guilt. (Interestingly, white-collar criminals actually show enhanced brain function in decision-making and other cognitive skills, according to Raine's unpublished research).

He also noted that a brain region called the orbital frontal cortex tends to be associated with being antisocial when its volume is smaller; as a group, men have a smaller orbital frontal cortex than women, which may help explain why men as a whole tend to commit more crimes than women.

Raine is not saying that this is a perfect predictive tool; it's not going to point to which individual child is going to commit a crime. Moreover, all of the data he reports is correlational, meaning he hasn't proven that these brain abnormalities cause criminal behavior. But it doesn't seem to make as much sense to think that living a criminal lifestyle would cause impaired fear conditioning, as it would the other way around, he said.

There is also evidence that what psychologists call "callous-unemotional traits" in childhood are risk factors for becoming a psychopath. Such traits include a lack of guilt about wrongdoings, absence of feelings or emotions, unhelpfulness to someone in need and unkindness to other children.

New research in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, also presented at the conference, looked at more than 9,500 children when they were ages 7, 9 and 12 from the United Kingdom's Twin Early Development Study. Researchers led by Natalie Fontaine at Indiana University showed that children who had hyperactivity, peer problems and emotional problems at 12 years old tended to have had increased levels of such callous-unemotional traits and conduct problems earlier in childhood.

Because participants were twins, the researchers were also able to look at genetics, and found a strong heritability for boys with high levels of persistent callous-unemotional traits. For girls with these traits that did not change much over time, environmental factors seemed to be more important.

We can look at these associations, but biology and genetics are not destiny. There will never be a perfectly accurate predictor of who will grow up to be an offender, Raine said. And 80% of delinquent adolescents do not continue to offend in adulthood, said Dustin Pardini of University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

But by better understanding how these behaviors developed, early interventions can be adjusted to specific needs, Fontaine said.

The question from all of this becomes: If psychopaths are the way they are because of brain abnormalities or genetic influences already apparent in childhood, and should they be punished as to the same degree as other criminals?

And if they should get special treatment, "Is that not a slippery slope toward Armageddon, where none of us are responsible for our actions, because all actions and behaviors come from our brain?" Raine said.

The extent to which biological factors should play a role in the justice system is an open and highly controversial question, as is the extent to which biological interventions should be developed to reduce crime, Raine said. Preliminary research has shown that omega-3 may reduce criminal offending in prison; this is just one line of future inquiry.

What do you think: If neurological and genetic factors out of a person's control contribute to criminal offending, do we need to rethink how they are punished? If we punish people to deter others from committing crimes, does that make sense if psychopaths aren't afraid of the consequences of their actions anyway? Share your thoughts in the comments.

soundoff (966 Responses)
  1. storm

    Didn't it just say so.

    February 21, 2011 at 12:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. cHRIS

    I swear I didnt kill that person.. My brain made me do it...

    February 21, 2011 at 13:18 | Report abuse | Reply
    • YaRight

      Next time some loony guy goes on a killing spree he will be good to go. He will just need to get a note from his doctor. Seems like that's the answer to everything now days and they are standing on the street corners passing them out.

      February 21, 2011 at 15:40 | Report abuse |
    • James

      What people fail to understand is that the brain reacts to stimuli; imagine a computer that you put a usb into. That computer will react to the usb and it's contents. If you replace the computer with a psychopath and the usb with correctional programs (prison, therapists, etc.), then it becomes clear that these people need only to have their problems properly treated. Also, from a literal perspective, there is no free will at all, as every action is a result of the action before hand as if the entire universe is a frame-by-frame. When broken down to the atomic level, actions and reactions are the nature of the universe and no one truly controls anything.

      February 21, 2011 at 16:24 | Report abuse |
    • Cenk Esetoglu

      Your brain is part of you. If you commit an unforgivable crime, then the rest of us may decide that we have had enough of you and your brain.

      February 21, 2011 at 16:57 | Report abuse |
    • Michael

      Then there's no way that you can be rehabilitated. We'll have to remove you from society....permanently.

      February 21, 2011 at 17:06 | Report abuse |
    • Free Will

      If there's no free will, and everything is pre-determined, then nothing truly matters, there is no right or wrong, and your life has no greater worth or meaning than a speck of dust floating in space.

      February 21, 2011 at 21:31 | Report abuse |
    • Rocco P

      As modern man distances itself from a Creator, humans are being being portrayed increasingly as mere biological machines. Good and evil, love and wickedness are just figmants of our imagination. As a result accountability for our deeds goes out the window. "Oh, the rapist, pedophile, murderer.. whatever...just has has ain irregularity or imbalance in his brain. Humans from the viewpoint of evolution, are just animals - so why should we punish someone for acting like a beast?"
      But wait did you read about that psychopath "Son of Sam" David Berkowitz? The guy gave his life to Jesus and now he lives and acts differently in spite of his brain mapping! The same thing happened to former Manson family member "Tex" Watson - and also murderer Karla Faye Tucker. Did you read the last words of this once cold, heartless woman before she was executed? Amazing things happen when people find peace with God through Jesus Christ! "Therefore if any man be in Christ he is a new creation - old things are passed away. Behold all things become new!" 2. Corinthians 5:17

      February 22, 2011 at 02:51 | Report abuse |
    • rosco

      When scientific observation contradicts the way we see the world, what is it that needs to adjust? Should we pretend we didn't see it? Is science then useless? Or is it (perhaps) that we need to adjust our previously flawed view of the world?

      That's a scary thing that we seem to naturally want to fight. Don't know that it's a fight we can win.

      February 22, 2011 at 10:50 | Report abuse |
    • Freud150

      What an ill-informed comment!!!!!!!!!!!!! Despite your inference that "all anyone has to do is cop an insanity plea," why not actually research it. Heck, even a Google search will inform you of the truth. And you will learn that such a plea is seldom used and seldom successful.
      Geez. How can a reader of Time be so ignorant of FACT!

      February 22, 2011 at 13:28 | Report abuse |
    • Prisoner's friend

      There is so much confusion about what the term "psychopath" means. Maybe 1 to 2% of the general population are psychopaths while the number is 12% in prison. As I have seen up close,psychopaths can be the cause of a normal person's sentence to prison. These people are dangerous - most never go to jail. They live among us and wreck lives. If CNN and other news purveyors could just get educated about what is the definition of a psychopath, the public could then learn to recognize and deal with these people. But as this article shows, knowing a little bit about psychopaths can almost be worse than knowing nothing.

      February 26, 2011 at 01:29 | Report abuse |
  3. Dr K R

    What the article has failed to address is society`s responsibility to protect it`s vulnerable. Regardless of whether a criminal is `born" or `created" (through his experience with society) any tolerance toward aggressive acts should be immediately addressed, and not looked at as `punishment`.

    February 21, 2011 at 13:19 | Report abuse | Reply
    • AL


      February 21, 2011 at 13:55 | Report abuse |
    • Caps is a disease

      Does Jeb keep you happy? My question is, what can we do about people using all caps. That seems pretty evil to me.

      February 21, 2011 at 14:00 | Report abuse |
    • Amy

      I agree, and this is a subject that is not often addressed in these discussions. What is our right as a civilized society to protect our most vulnerable? That should be the fundamental question. In my home, I believe that I have the right to do anything in my power to protect my family, my children. So what about in my neighborhood, my city, my state? These are the types of questions we should be asking, not just debating this punishment or that punishment. Ultimately we should remain focused on the goal. When we have that objective in mind, then the real conversation can begin.

      February 21, 2011 at 14:21 | Report abuse |
    • mfh


      February 21, 2011 at 15:36 | Report abuse |

      If your a doctor, how do you not know how to use quotation marks and apostrophes?

      February 21, 2011 at 17:14 | Report abuse |
    • CT73

      @Useless: It's "you're", not "your." People who live in glass houses.

      February 21, 2011 at 18:40 | Report abuse |
    • Jones

      Pseudo-science at best. A persons environment is what determines his actions and who he is as a person. This research must be funded by the government somehow.

      February 28, 2011 at 20:21 | Report abuse |
  4. Calvin

    Early diagnosis can mean early intervention; perhaps we can prevent some later criminal behavior by recognizing that these kids are indeed different.

    February 21, 2011 at 13:26 | Report abuse | Reply
    • angelad496

      Even if this is a viable concept consider this: The kid is innocent but treated already as if there was something wrong with them. The kid grows up believing there "IS something wrong with me so I might as well act on it." If the child had been left alone – they would have "OMG" just grown up and "GASP" joined society! NO!

      February 21, 2011 at 14:02 | Report abuse |
    • text

      Brain is a muscle. It is trainable. That means, you can train brain to be criminal and vice versa.

      February 21, 2011 at 14:14 | Report abuse |
    • ak2k

      I know I'm one of these people. My lack of guilt and fear of consequences have led me to make some huge mistakes. I've had to work very, very hard to make some major changes in the way I live my life and make decisions. This is a very interesting study. I hope that good things come from it.

      February 21, 2011 at 14:43 | Report abuse |
    • Kati

      The early intervention already exists – families, schools, church. The article says that the initial behavior deviations are noticeable. If only we had people who cared enough for those kids to recognize and reverse the problem early on. And they don't have to be treated differently, but simply counteractive to their actions. If a child shows no empathy at an early age – that can be addressed immediately and if not empathy, but sympathy can be learned, etc. Unfortunately, the educators that we have are not trained to recognize the issues, or they simply don't care.

      February 21, 2011 at 16:13 | Report abuse |
    • JBA19445

      the brain is most definitely not a muscle...just pointing that out.

      February 21, 2011 at 18:33 | Report abuse |
    • You people are crazy

      I wanna see someone flex their brain (since its a muscle) and pop their eye balls out.

      February 22, 2011 at 07:24 | Report abuse |
    • clubchampx10

      So should we screen every newborn and set aside all that show the abnormality? Didn't they do something similar in Germany during the 30s and 40s?

      February 22, 2011 at 10:12 | Report abuse |
  5. T3chsupport

    It's a scary thought, but if there's no way they can control them, we certainly can't just let them roam around in society. Barring some sort of miracle cure, they'd either have to be locked up for life, or we'd need to bring back lobotomies.

    February 21, 2011 at 13:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • GoodAdvice

      That reminds me, I haven't seen Minority Report in a while.

      February 21, 2011 at 13:55 | Report abuse |
    • Kraznodar

      Don't be so stupid. From identifying the problem it is only a short step to eliminating the problem. There are already efforts underway to treat other disorders with similar symptoms by growing the Amygdala.

      February 21, 2011 at 14:01 | Report abuse |
  6. Rob

    This has kinda been known since the dawn of man. Some people are just born dumb or bad. I knew in 3rd grade which of my classmates were future jailbirds and I can tell you which of my daughters 3rd grade classmates are future jailbirds. I supoose if mankind is ever going to progress to another level, we'll have to come up with a cure for stupidity. This is a great step in that direction. Please keep up the great work.

    February 21, 2011 at 13:43 | Report abuse | Reply
    • JamieinMN

      So you're just judging your daughter's 3rd grade classmates by looks?!?!!! You couldn't possibly KNOW them, nor know enough history about those children. You have NO IDEA.

      February 21, 2011 at 13:49 | Report abuse |
    • Maybe it's just you?

      Uh oh. Someone in Minnesota has a little criminal hidden under a coat.

      February 21, 2011 at 13:57 | Report abuse |
    • angelad496

      Going with the theory that we are what shapes and moulds us: perhaps people with a preconceived mindset such as yourself have already condemned the innocent.

      February 21, 2011 at 13:58 | Report abuse |
    • Kraznodar

      Rob, when the revolution comes, I will shoot you myself. After all, the stupid must be purged.

      February 21, 2011 at 14:02 | Report abuse |
    • Rhea

      It's not a matter of condemning the innocent. You can see which kids work hard, share with others, and will probably do well in life, and you can see which kids refuse to acknowledge authority, ignore any correction or punishment, take whatever they want regardless of others' feelings or rights, and you know those kids will be trouble.

      February 21, 2011 at 14:11 | Report abuse |
    • rreidler

      Well, Rob what if your grand daughter was in the jail bird part of your observation, what would you do then? Look the other
      way and hope for the best? thats my bet.

      February 21, 2011 at 15:00 | Report abuse |
    • independentlyowned

      I don't think Rob was assessing his daughter's classmates' potential "jailbird" status based solely on looks, but based on their entire personality. I agree that you can often tell from very young ages which kids are more aggressive and have problems with authority, and thus are more likely to wind up in jail. Not a guarantee, but just more probable. However, the debate will always prevail between how much of it is biological, socialized, or any combination.

      February 21, 2011 at 15:43 | Report abuse |
    • AGR

      Sounds like there are a bunch of overly defensive folks out here. Are your kids one of those who are in trouble at school all the time or bullying the other kids in the sandbox? I agree, it isn't that difficult to tell that the kid who is stealing other kids toys, bullying them around and showing a lack of respect of authority in school probably isn't going to grow up to be much. After all, they are already given so many excuses when they are little on why they should never be punished for anything they do wrong, how on earth are they going to magically grow up to obey the rules of society?

      And thinking that that they are little miscreants isn't condemning them to anything at all. I would never go up to a third grader and tell him that I think he's a little punk; but I have seen plenty that make me think that. I treat them no differently than the others that do know how to behave; I smile at their mothers like "oh, how cute little Jimmy is" because that is what they expect but inside I'm thinking something completely different. Guess it is somehow still my fault that little Jimmy ends up behind bars as an adult? I'm still amazed at how many people still think that no punishment for bad behavior is a good thing.

      February 21, 2011 at 15:57 | Report abuse |
    • Teri

      I agree. I taught kindergarten one year and had the same kids the next year in first grade. It was clear even at that age who the troublemakers were, who would be prom queen, which ones would be cheerleaders, who would have good marriages and who would make bad relationship decisions, who would be studious and do well in college and go on to find good careers vs. those who would be drop outs or go to tech school, etc. They are all now in their 30's with their own families, jobs, homes, etc. I wasn't incorrect about any of them. It's very clear from an early age.

      February 21, 2011 at 16:19 | Report abuse |
    • Michael Dichael

      I can tell if a child is going to grow up on the wrong side of society by looking at how a kid acts/reacts to other children/adults, and their parents, and how their parents act/react to them. Sure, life changing things might happen... the kid might see the light, whatever, but if nothing changes, the kid will end up a loser. Those who refuse to believe it are not part of the solution, they are part of the problem. I don't doubt that people who are on here defending this article don't have children themselves who are problem makers, bullies in school, etc.

      February 21, 2011 at 18:22 | Report abuse |
    • Pepe Santos

      Tori – You are so utterly ignorant that I am stunned. Bill Gates was a dropout. I went to tech school and do qute well. You sound like Gestapo.

      February 21, 2011 at 18:34 | Report abuse |
    • ravenne

      Wow, Teri, I'm not sure you should be working with children. I can buy Rob's premise that you can identify antisocial behavior in kids very early – the ones who seem violent and sadistic. But you think you can predict peoples' careers, marriages, etc.? Really? In kindergarten I was a holy terror with severe ADHD. I was a very caring, empathetic little kid, but I had very poor impulse control and was always in trouble. I probably won the school record for trips to the principal's office in one school year. Today I have a PhD and have been happily married for 14 years. Wonder what side you'd have bet on if you had me in your kindergarten class?

      February 21, 2011 at 19:34 | Report abuse |
    • Dont Worry About it

      You say you can distinguish between the bad kids and good. Isint that a little harsh? People can change. So are you saying that if your kids were destint to be criminals you would openly say it and be able to say your kids were gonna end up criminals.... i doubt it

      February 21, 2011 at 20:01 | Report abuse |
    • You people are crazy

      Obviously Rob is casting a stone. ...just saying.

      February 22, 2011 at 07:25 | Report abuse |
  7. ObammaAlabamaSlamma

    Props to Philip K. Dick for being at least 100 years ahead of his time.

    This is like the birth of a "pre-crime" division. Singling out people who are "genetically at-risk" for committing crimes is pretty much the same thing as racial profiling.

    People who have a reduction in the amygdala would also make excellent soldiers. Should we then pre-emptively enroll these people who are "at-risk" into combat roles in the armed services so as to add structure to their disorder?

    February 21, 2011 at 13:48 | Report abuse | Reply
    • John

      > Props to Philip K. Dick for being at least 100 years ahead of his time.

      Minority Report was published in 1956, and so I question your math.

      February 21, 2011 at 13:52 | Report abuse |
    • angelad496

      @ John: regardless of math – he's on the right track.

      February 21, 2011 at 13:56 | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      Math is not off. He's looking ahead. Yaknow, around 2056, as we keep headed this way?

      February 21, 2011 at 14:21 | Report abuse |
    • Velma

      No, it's not like racial profiling. it's like identifying people at risk of developing certain diseases and taking preventive measures.Saying there is something different about their brains is not writing a "get out of jail free" pass. It is giving a "heads up" that something might be done to prevent future problems and crime.Why are so many people so afraid to admit that their brain is an organ like all the rest? And why are so many people unwilling to accept that they are, quite literally, their brain?

      February 21, 2011 at 16:41 | Report abuse |
    • Odinate

      Not quite. Racial profiling is based on cultural perception; this is to say that it's scientifically baseless. Weeding out sociopaths in youth, or other 'at-risk' persons as you called them, has scientific foundation. We 'know' they'll go awry at some point, but our assumptions about certain races and crime rates comes from social structure, culture, etc. White people could just as easily be thought of as more likely to commit a crime if history had turned out differently, but no matter how you slice it, a sociopath is a sociopath is a sociopath.

      February 21, 2011 at 17:30 | Report abuse |
    • ObammaAlabamaSlamma

      @Odinate: That's a dangerous line of thinking. You don't "know" that they'll go "awry at some point". There is nothing that suggests that someone with these genetic predispositions has a 100% chance of "going awry". What exactly should be done in cases like this, is what I'm asking. What measures will society justify as a prophylactic?

      I mean really, racial profiling IS no different. You say that it's merely peoples' perceptions of other races or cultures, but in reality, racial profiling is not only based on race, it's also based on class. An African-American or Latino from a poor background is statistically far more likely to commit a crime. Using your logic, it should therefore be acceptable to proactively separate poor minorities from their families in order to separate them from the elements that contribute to criminal thinking.


      February 22, 2011 at 09:24 | Report abuse |
  8. angelad496

    "Raine is not saying that this is a perfect predictive tool; it's not going to point to which individual child is going to commit a crime. Moreover, all of the data he reports is correlational, meaning he hasn't proven that these brain abnormalities cause criminal behavior" There isn't ever going to be one great break out finding that says who is and who isn't a criminal. Way back when they were inclined to believe people with sloping foreheads more inclined to criminal behavior...that's been disproven. We are not cookies cut from the same cutter. We may be from the same dough but we are all shaped differently. In other words we are what our peers and family make us.

    February 21, 2011 at 13:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Kraznodar

    Interesting. I recently doubled my Omega 3 intake and I no longer want to bash people in the head with an axe. Well, not as often anyway.

    February 21, 2011 at 13:57 | Report abuse | Reply
    • You people are crazy

      Pass me your Omega. I want to bash you in the head for saying that.

      February 22, 2011 at 07:26 | Report abuse |
  10. astuartgirl

    Brilliant! 😀

    February 21, 2011 at 13:57 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mahender GORIGANTI, MD

      thank you. Have good day!!

      February 21, 2011 at 18:39 | Report abuse |
  11. Dave

    Eugenics sneaks back in hiding under a shiny New paint job.
    Whats really scary is there are some posting here that support the Idea. It's a Very Progressive Liberal ( NAZI ) thing to do.
    All we need now are Camps to send them to. My Bad We already have those Right CCA & Whackenhut.

    February 21, 2011 at 14:03 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Pburgh

      The conclusions people will draw from this research also give me cause for concern, but I the implications imbedded in the comments of Dave and ObammaAlabammaSlamma that the research is being undertaken to pursue a political agenda is baseless. I think the idea of suppressing scientific discovery/research out of fear of the outcomes is dangerous. Sometimes uncomfortable truths exist, its better to know them and react thoughtfully than remain ignorant under a guise of political correctness.

      February 21, 2011 at 14:37 | Report abuse |
    • independentlyowned

      I always thought that the progressive, bleeding heart liberal ideology was to feel sympathy for the criminal who has a biological predisposition to commit crimes, not to want to kill them? In fact, most liberals are anti-death penalty and anti-eugenics. In fact, the actual Nazi party, while having some socialist views, more so mirrored an extreme conservative view. In fact, eugenics projects in the US (yes, it happened and still does to an extent) are proposed, funded and executed by conservatives to get rid of "undesirables" and the "feeble minded." Just because you don't like liberals doesn't mean we're Nazis.

      February 21, 2011 at 15:50 | Report abuse |
  12. Neeneko

    You have to be careful with this kind of 'let us identify the future psychopaths, since you need to keep in mind that for every psychopath that makes the news as a killer, there are probably 100 that are harmless members of society, and more importantly, a good percentage of the 'higher ups' in corporate chains are psychopaths that have learned to harness it.

    February 21, 2011 at 14:06 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Rhea

      So that explains what happened on Wall Street in 2008, and why it will happen again.

      February 21, 2011 at 14:14 | Report abuse |
  13. bwin1

    Reason enough for why women need to take over leadership now. With men leading us, there is not enough empathy in the world and that's why we are prone to so much violence and disregard for human life.

    February 21, 2011 at 14:09 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Uncle Beasley

      Right. If women were in charge of Al Qeada, for example, they would be too busy shopping for shoes to cause any trouble.

      Next, let's hear from all the supporters of either Nancy Pelosi or Sarah Palin. Sorry, but the women in "leadership roles" in American politics today do not make me support your suggestion.

      February 21, 2011 at 15:50 | Report abuse |
    • kana

      Right up to the time they are PMSing and then we won't have to worry about global warming because we'll have a nuclear winter

      February 21, 2011 at 16:31 | Report abuse |
    • steph91

      I agree. Men are PMSing with an overload of testosterone 31 days out of the month, so I'll take a woman leader any day of the month/year (with the exception of Republican women, who have the empathy of men).

      February 21, 2011 at 20:15 | Report abuse |
  14. Al

    We do not know entirely how the brain develops or the genetics that causes the brain to develop. Its way to early to draw a direct relationship. Its a case of the chicken or the egg. Is this genetics that causes the disparity or a case of excess/reduced external stimulas? Kids who play violent video are said to be desensitise to aggressive behavors and violence. Add a test and rating system to account for outside learned behavor.

    February 21, 2011 at 14:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. rrock

    The should check Cheney's and Rumsfeld's brains.

    February 21, 2011 at 14:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. NatureVNurture

    Maybe what this shows is that punishment-based deterrence for crime isn't effective for criminally-inclined individuals. I guess that's why we need to keep jacking up the punishments.

    February 21, 2011 at 14:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Rob

    Kill them at birth, and save the taxpayers the money to house them in jail. Wait a minute, the privatized prisons wouldn't get those taxpayer dollars they overcharge us for, and Dick Chaney might go broke.

    February 21, 2011 at 14:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. SM5

    If someone's brain is responsible for committing a crime (and not the person himself), then I would say, simply remove the brain. Put the brain in prison and let the innocent body go free.

    Or just kill the psychopath, in other words.

    February 21, 2011 at 14:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. angela

    I liked Minority Report as a movie.

    February 21, 2011 at 14:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ghittsum

      That was the first thing I thought of, and I enjoyed it too.

      February 21, 2011 at 15:28 | Report abuse |
  20. ehenry

    Great. Now science has come up with yet another way for a criminal to assert that they should not be held responsible for their crimes. – "I couldn't help it, I was born this way. It's my genes' fault!"

    February 21, 2011 at 14:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. someoneelse

    In the end, if this is true, then we either need to figure out a way to fix it or start aborting more. If this is not true or it is shown that they can control themselves, then keep things the way they are, i.e. prosecuting crime based on responsibility (well, I don't know if that is done anymore, but that is the theory behind it).

    February 21, 2011 at 14:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. FreddyK

    Interesting. So, soon we may have the ability to identify a socially-challenged person at birth! With any luck, we'll be able to get them on public assistance for life before they even leave the hospital. And *bang!*, another Democrat is born.

    February 21, 2011 at 14:36 | Report abuse | Reply
    • optimist

      freddyK – since you turned this into an attack on democrats I guess your almond is in a cereal box somewhere:)

      February 21, 2011 at 14:49 | Report abuse |
  23. Jennifer

    Sounds like some of the characteristics of autistic children...my two autistic boys have been taught to compensate for their deficiencies.

    February 21, 2011 at 14:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. JT

    I hate articles written like this. Using statements like "Those who had poor amygdala function at that time were more likely to become criminal offenders later in life..." is a complete waste of text. Use the statistics, not approximations.

    If 2000 kids were studied (1000 with normal amygdala function, 1000 with abnormal) and 3 "normal" kids became criminals and 4 "abnormals" became criminals, we could use that exact same statement to describe the results.

    Please stop letting non-statisticians write about statistical studies. Or, on the converse, stop spinning the results.

    February 21, 2011 at 14:39 | Report abuse | Reply
    • aloha.ke.akua

      i agree totally

      February 21, 2011 at 19:00 | Report abuse |
  25. Gene

    In his book, The Death of Satan by Andrew Delbanco “A gulf has opened in our culture between the
    visibility of evil and our intellectual resources for coping with it.” One of the best places where this comes
    to a head is The Silence of the Lambs. Hannibal Lecter is a classic monster, and the young Detective
    Starling, is listening to the most incredible things heʼs saying and she responds, “What could have made
    you like this? What happened to you?” (That is an incredibly modern question that immediately assumes
    weʼre only wrestling with flesh and blood. And Lecter says, “Nothing has happened to me. I happened.”
    You canʼt reduce me to a set of influences. Youʼve given up good and evil for behaviorism, Officer
    Starling. Youʼve got everybody in moral dignity pants. Nothing is ever anybodyʼs fault. Look at me,
    Officer Starling. Can you stand to say, “Iʼm evil?” And Delbanco goes on to write, “These words are the
    epitome of modern horror and the modern dilemma. Itʼs the horror of knowing that we cannot answer the
    monsterʼs question.”

    Copied from: http://www.roswellcommunity.org/Files/Manuscripts/29-Wrestle.pdf

    February 21, 2011 at 14:42 | Report abuse | Reply
    • SteveW928

      It's funny when movie writers get something so many scientists don't, huh?

      February 21, 2011 at 14:54 | Report abuse |
  26. barbara

    And if they should get special treatment, "Is that not a slippery slope toward Armageddon, where none of us are responsible for our actions, because all actions and behaviors come from our brain?" Raine said.
    Heaven forbid we should tend toward treating people instead of resolving our anger by punishing them. "Toward Armageddon", how hilarious.

    February 21, 2011 at 14:43 | Report abuse | Reply
    • SteveW928

      Well... maybe follow the thinking through all the way, and see where determinism takes you. Of course, then, you were determined to write this statement as was I.... as well as the author of this article.... and the scientists... and the criminals, etc. In that case, why are you and I wasting our time? Oh yea, it was determined. (Sorry, my brain chemicals made me post this.)

      February 21, 2011 at 14:53 | Report abuse |
  27. optimist

    So maybe kids could be screened when young and if they seem to be at high risk, they could get intensive training in good values. Maybe that could save lives and money!

    February 21, 2011 at 14:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. SS

    As others have already said through their comments on this page, there can really be no excuse for criminal behavior. If this study turns out to be consistent and positively true, then those people who are born with the abnormality in that certain region of the brain should seek the correct remedy and help. They should have their consequences and actions explained to them, so they understand what they did, given their correct punishment, and released knowing that they understand what they have done and thus should not repeat it again. This way, we have treated people who "could not understand" why they committed a crime, into understanding their wrongdoings, ultimately leading to these people to never commit a crime again. Compared to people who have not been treated and are later released, leading them to commit the same crime (assuming their first act of crime was not murder that lead to life in prison).

    February 21, 2011 at 14:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. SteveW928

    This is beginning to get quite scary. These 'bottom-up' people are gaining influence by claiming to be on the side of science, when they really don't understand what is going on. If this path is followed, some really bad things are going to start happening. The religion of naturalism really is dangerous, as unlike other religious dangers where the followers aren't following the religion's teachings, in naturalism, the danger IS following the religion's teachings.

    February 21, 2011 at 14:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Please Read

    If it were not for the collective brains of "civilized society" artificially creating a moral standard for everyone, this whole issue would be moot. In other words, it's the fault of the law-obiders for having a problem with psychopathic behavior. Being a law-obiding, good human being is also "all in your head," right? So then, why should THAT matter? Just following the logic.

    Look, we have to set limits somewhere, otherwise we will destroy ourselves at a much, much faster rate than we are currently doing. Even though the wild animal seems tame, we still keep it in a cage because it is still an animal. When you're talking about psychopathy, that's a better analogy. Many psychopaths are actual human predators. We must cage them to protect the rest of us. We let them roam free at our peril.

    February 21, 2011 at 14:51 | Report abuse | Reply
    • SteveW928

      What's wrong with that though? Maybe these 'predators' are actually the most advanced humans. The rest of us are holding back their evolution. The serial-rapist without conscious (just an illusion, btw) is the most advanced human evolution has yet to produce.

      February 21, 2011 at 14:59 | Report abuse |
  31. jmanek

    Psychopaths/sociopaths/antisocial personality dissorder, whatever you want to call it is present in about 4% of our population. While I'm sure genetics play a huge role in how these people eventually turn out it should not change how they are punished. Currently it is believed that sociopaths cannot be rehabilitated or treated. They have a complete lack on remorse or consience. Many of these people live very close to us and we never know it but they will eventually destroy the very community around you.

    February 21, 2011 at 14:52 | Report abuse | Reply
    • SteveW928

      Remorse? Conscious? If true, there is no such thing. (Sorry, my brain chemistry made me post this.)

      February 21, 2011 at 14:56 | Report abuse |
  32. cmc

    no! this does not help! just because someone is different dosen't mean u can predict their life. if people do wrong they should get punished by their wrongs. u really cant change the laws for some specail child.

    February 21, 2011 at 14:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. SteveW928

    Conclusion..... programs of science education seriously need to include a philosophy course or two.... sheesh!

    February 21, 2011 at 15:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Carl

    That article said it all. i have a daughter that is a psychopath. No guilt, remorse and thinks everybody else is wrong. She's been in trouble for 24 years. She is now 36. Credit card fraud, insurance fraud, stealing, lying just for the sake of lying, walking out without paying, never has worked, on welfare, driving a brand new car, lawn care service, hair done, snow removal service, tanning machines, nails are done by a salon, and guess what? Everything paid by her mother who is retired and 70 years old. Her mother can't keep up and has to look for another job.

    February 21, 2011 at 15:05 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Unlikely Compromise


      She is most likely anti-social personality, certainly emotionally immature. But psychopathic?... Not according to the examples you gave, no. Psychopathy and anti-social traits are not the same thing. It is possible to have traits of both, but genuine psychopathy is very rare. Best of luck. I hope she gets help soon.

      February 21, 2011 at 15:24 | Report abuse |
    • Daniela

      Sorry to hear about your daughter. I'm guessing you are the father...but what a shame that the mother enables this lifestyle. She must just be holding on to whatever she can to keep close to your daughter and must be extremely distressed.

      I will say a prayer for you alll...

      February 21, 2011 at 15:29 | Report abuse |
  35. NightLight1

    Someone up there said the brain is a muscle. Uh, no it is not. It is an organ.

    February 21, 2011 at 15:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. stove

    "If neurological and genetic factors out of a person's control contribute to criminal offending, do we need to rethink how they are punished?"

    This is the wrong question to be asking. The right questions are, "If neurological and genetic factors out of a person's control contribute to criminal offending, what kinds of therapies/treatments/interventions can be developed to repair those neurological abnormalities so that those individuals are less likely to become criminal offenders? How can such treatments be developed and brought to market? If an at-risk individual refuses treatment that is available and then commits a crime, how should that decision be taken into account in sentencing the individual?"

    February 21, 2011 at 15:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Unlikely Compromise

    I think if anything, the evidence might lend strength to the argument for making prison less of a hell-on-earth, and more of a place of "civilized containment." Perhaps we could decrease punishment in exchange for increasing sentences. It is immoral to punish those for being hard-wired to behave in certain ways, even if those ways are terrible. However, we must also protect society. We need a middle ground. Whatever we do, we must make sure that genuine psychopaths are kept outside of society. Torturing them isn't the answer either, lest we become like them.

    February 21, 2011 at 15:16 | Report abuse | Reply
    • SteveW928

      'immoral' doesn't work here... that's a borrowed term from theology

      February 21, 2011 at 15:21 | Report abuse |
    • Unlikely Compromise


      Morale Philosophy is not synonymous with theology. It is possible to have morality, and to define "good" and "evil," "right" and "wrong," etck. without a god, and without theology. I'd recommend you read up on Moral Philosophy, or Ethics as it is otherwise known.

      February 21, 2011 at 15:36 | Report abuse |
    • SteveW928

      You can define it, but it is meaningless as you can't 'ground' it.

      February 21, 2011 at 19:20 | Report abuse |
  38. hawaiikaos

    I stopped reading this after the biblical reference.

    February 21, 2011 at 15:16 | Report abuse | Reply
    • SteveW928

      If it weren't that you were pre-programmed to do so, I'd say that is a narrow-minded idea.

      February 21, 2011 at 15:22 | Report abuse |
  39. Chris K

    So if I my parents were alcholics and I have been shown to have a tendency toward drinking I can get out of my DUI?

    If we take this study as fact, then it STILL would not eliminate Personal Responsibility. It could explain why some people have a TENDENCY. But it would never excuse a person from the act itself.

    As others noted, there are still many people that exhibit these tendencies that never act out on them.

    While I am personally against the idea of biologically justifying criminal behavior. I agree with those that suggest that if we can identify a biological predisposition for criminal endencies... we are one step closer toward medically treating some cases.

    Unfortuntely I don't imagine there is a cure for selfishness and apathy. So many criminals won't likely benefit from the findings of this study anyway.

    February 21, 2011 at 15:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Marc

    Nothing in nature truly deems an individual "criminal". Only Governments deem people criminal. This is just another way to convince we the people can be criminals without committing any crimes. Welcome to the new way things are done, aka "The New World Order"

    February 21, 2011 at 15:27 | Report abuse | Reply
    • SteveW928

      It's not really 'new world order', but just secularism being more true to itself (ie: beginning to ditch borrowed theological underpinnings).

      February 21, 2011 at 19:24 | Report abuse |
  41. Daniela

    This is all very interesting and enlightening -gives me a bit more compassion to those who commit crimes. However, there just can't be any gray areas here with punishment. If you commit a crime, you are punished. It is sad, but we can't have people like this roaming around hurting others.

    February 21, 2011 at 15:27 | Report abuse | Reply
    • independentlyowned

      Well said. It's sad that some people are potentially more predisposed to commit crimes, but that doesn't excuse their actions, merely explains them. Perhaps we need to reevaluate our system of punishment, but they still need to be punished.

      February 21, 2011 at 15:56 | Report abuse |
  42. RM

    Ah yes, Phrenology for the 21st century.

    February 21, 2011 at 15:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. kate

    as any other disability it can be treated in time to improve the future qualities of live similar to those who suffer from autism.

    February 21, 2011 at 15:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Langston

    What? No print function?

    February 21, 2011 at 15:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Sheila

    I'm scared, maybe I shouldn't be. Telling us how we'll all turn out, takes all the random away – lessens our dreams and aspirations. Maybe it's a good thing but it doesn't feel right.

    February 21, 2011 at 15:44 | Report abuse | Reply
    • SteveW928

      Well, in this worldview, dreams and aspirations are just an illusion. Naturalism (and naturalistic evolution) boils down to determinism.

      February 21, 2011 at 19:26 | Report abuse |
  46. JFK

    this explains the rhetoric from Pelosi, Frank and Reid...the true rat pack

    February 21, 2011 at 15:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. Cletus Van Damme

    Just check the color of their skin. The darker it is, the more likely to be a future criminal.

    February 21, 2011 at 15:48 | Report abuse | Reply
    • independentlyowned

      Yea there was actually a study done to show that regardless of upbringing, social class, poverty level, education level or any other sociological factor, there's still a strong correlation between skin pigmentation and predisposition to criminal activity. The skin pigment cells actually alter the brain chemistry and make them criminals!!

      Ok.... seriously???

      February 21, 2011 at 15:54 | Report abuse |
    • Damme stupid

      You're joking and just trying to get a rise out of people, right? If not, please give the rest of us unenlightened non-bigots the info on the study that proves your Nazi type of thinking on ths color of a person's skin theory.

      February 21, 2011 at 16:25 | Report abuse |
    • SteveW928

      Pretty much... it will just have to be given a new name, as it is gene based instead of race based, but you're right that where race and genetics run parallel, it will work out. Scary huh?

      February 21, 2011 at 19:28 | Report abuse |
    • SteveW928

      I should add... that this isn't so out of the main-stream in science anymore either.

      February 21, 2011 at 19:30 | Report abuse |
    • wiser from life

      How ignorant you are!

      February 21, 2011 at 19:48 | Report abuse |
    • SteveW928

      Thank you.... a pure Ad Hominem response says volumes.

      February 21, 2011 at 20:05 | Report abuse |
  48. Dave

    Great just another reason to people from being accountable for their actions.

    February 21, 2011 at 15:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. Marc

    The Nazis also said the size of the brain determines if someone will obey orders or not. This kind of science employed could only be corrupt. It could be used to determine what roles people are allowed to play in society based on mental dispositions. Any organized effort to classify innocent children or anybody as criminal, or potential criminal is a serious threat to real freedom and justice. Science fact can be twisted. I am sure it is possible to make a statistical chart illustrating how often a system for which to determine criminality in innocent people would be used in corrupt Governments to combat those seeking to expose the corruption.....

    February 21, 2011 at 15:57 | Report abuse | Reply
    • SteveW928

      It isn't so much science as a worldview interpreting science data to fit the worldview. And, it's pretty scary stuff.

      February 21, 2011 at 19:32 | Report abuse |
  50. Pavi Agrawal

    This is complete BS. Better would be to focus on ways to curb the things which makes one criminal. May this is a first step.

    February 21, 2011 at 15:59 | Report abuse | Reply
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