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criminals actually show enhanced brain function in decision-making and other cognitive skills, according to Raine's unpublished research).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. Digital Marketing Consultants


    May 27, 2021 at 18:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. dent devil san diego

    Hi! I could have sworn I’ve been to this web site before but after going through some of the articles I realized it’s new to me. Nonetheless, I’m definitely pleased I came across it and I’ll be book-marking it and checking back regularly!


    May 27, 2021 at 20:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. RV Washing California


    May 27, 2021 at 23:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. orange rv


    May 28, 2021 at 00:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. oranges for sale near me


    May 28, 2021 at 01:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. orange county collision center

    Good post. I learn something totally new and challenging on sites I stumbleupon every day. It will always be exciting to read through content from other authors and practice something from other web sites.


    May 28, 2021 at 01:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. RV Technician Near Me


    May 28, 2021 at 01:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. RV Blinds Riverside


    May 28, 2021 at 03:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. RV Dashboard Orange County


    May 28, 2021 at 04:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. RV Renovation Orange County


    May 28, 2021 at 06:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. RV Bathroom Orange County

    Aw, this was an incredibly good post. Taking a few minutes and actual effort to generate a superb article… but what can I say… I put things off a whole lot and don't manage to get anything done.


    May 28, 2021 at 10:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. RV Interior Remodeling Orange County

    Hi there! I just would like to offer you a big thumbs up for your excellent info you have here on this post. I'll be coming back to your site for more soon.


    May 28, 2021 at 20:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Box Truck Upgrades

    Hello there! This article couldn’t be written much better! Going through this post reminds me of my previous roommate! He always kept preaching about this. I am going to forward this article to him. Fairly certain he'll have a very good read. Thank you for sharing!


    May 29, 2021 at 07:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Social Media Marketing Business

    This is the perfect web site for everyone who hopes to understand this topic. You know a whole lot its almost hard to argue with you (not that I personally will need toÖHaHa). You definitely put a fresh spin on a subject that has been written about for many years. Excellent stuff, just great!


    May 29, 2021 at 07:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Chevrolet Cargo Van Repair Shop

    Very nice post. I certainly love this website. Continue the good work!


    May 29, 2021 at 15:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Mercedes High Top Van Repair Shop Near Me


    May 30, 2021 at 00:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Sprinter Van Alignment Shop Near Me


    May 30, 2021 at 01:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Western Star Truck Repair


    May 30, 2021 at 06:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Aron Ditmore

    I have just downloaded Joomla Stand Alone Server (JSAS) but i havent seen or set the password for the administrator console within.. I wondered whether or not there is a default username/password for this, if so, what is it?. . Thanks.


    May 30, 2021 at 10:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Google Marketing Agency

    Having read this I thought it was extremely enlightening. I appreciate you finding the time and energy to put this information together. I once again find myself spending a significant amount of time both reading and leaving comments. But so what, it was still worthwhile!


    May 30, 2021 at 11:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Internet Marketing Firm Near Me

    I was able to find good advice from your articles.


    May 30, 2021 at 18:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Roof Mounted A/C Leak Repair On Sprinter Van


    May 31, 2021 at 00:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. RV Parts And Repair Near Me

    I need to to thank you for this excellent read!! I certainly loved every bit of it. I have got you saved as a favorite to check out new stuff you post…


    May 31, 2021 at 01:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Rv Upholstery

    When I originally left a comment I appear to have clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now each time a comment is added I receive 4 emails with the same comment. There has to be an easy method you can remove me from that service? Thanks!


    May 31, 2021 at 03:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Wheelchair Van Repair Shop Near Me

    Great post. I am dealing with a few of these issues as well..


    May 31, 2021 at 08:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Executive Van Repair Shop Near Me

    Greetings! Very helpful advice in this particular article! It is the little changes that make the most significant changes. Thanks for sharing!


    May 31, 2021 at 09:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. RV Roof Repair Near Me


    May 31, 2021 at 15:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Dodge Sprinter Repair Shop


    May 31, 2021 at 20:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Collision Repair Shop Near Me


    May 31, 2021 at 22:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Courier Van Repair


    June 1, 2021 at 03:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Municipal Vehicle Repair Shop Near Me

    Hi, I do think this is a great web site. I stumbledupon it 😉 I am going to revisit once again since I saved as a favorite it. Money and freedom is the greatest way to change, may you be rich and continue to guide others.


    June 1, 2021 at 04:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Nissan High Top Van Repair Shop


    June 1, 2021 at 11:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Service Van Repair Shop Near Me

    This site truly has all the information and facts I needed concerning this subject and didn’t know who to ask.


    June 1, 2021 at 12:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. ac shop near me

    Pretty! This has been an incredibly wonderful post. Many thanks for providing this information.


    June 1, 2021 at 14:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Soo Herem


    June 1, 2021 at 15:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. camper remodel supplies


    June 1, 2021 at 23:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Touring Van Repair

    A fascinating discussion is worth comment. I do believe that you should write more about this topic, it may not be a taboo matter but typically folks don't speak about these topics. To the next! Kind regards!!


    June 2, 2021 at 04:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Nohemi Rynes

    I was extremely pleased to uncover this page. I wanted to thank you for ones time due to this wonderful read!! I definitely enjoyed every part of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new things on your website.


    June 2, 2021 at 04:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. oc rv dealers


    June 2, 2021 at 04:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. how to repair rv plumbing


    June 2, 2021 at 05:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Sprinter Van Conversion Shop

    I like it when individuals come together and share opinions. Great blog, stick with it!


    June 2, 2021 at 06:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. Collision Repair Shop Near Me

    Can I simply say what a relief to uncover an individual who actually understands what they're discussing over the internet. You actually understand how to bring an issue to light and make it important. More and more people need to read this and understand this side of your story. I was surprised you are not more popular since you most certainly have the gift.


    June 2, 2021 at 10:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. Van Repair Shop

    Good info. Lucky me I came across your site by accident (stumbleupon). I've saved it for later!


    June 2, 2021 at 14:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Walker Nicastro

    Greetings! Very helpful advice in this particular article! It's the little changes that make the largest changes. Thanks a lot for sharing!


    June 2, 2021 at 15:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Alignment Shop

    I was excited to discover this site. I need to to thank you for ones time just for this wonderful read!! I definitely loved every bit of it and i also have you saved to fav to see new information on your blog.


    June 2, 2021 at 19:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. SEO Marketing Specialist


    June 2, 2021 at 23:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. RV Generator Riverside


    June 3, 2021 at 05:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. Mercedes Sprinter Diesel Service Near Me


    June 3, 2021 at 10:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. orange coast trailer supply


    June 3, 2021 at 18:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. rv parts orange county

    I couldnít refrain from commenting. Exceptionally well written!


    June 3, 2021 at 19:14 | Report abuse | Reply
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18

Leave a Reply to orange county collision center


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.