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criminals actually show enhanced brain function in decision-making and other cognitive skills, according to Raine's unpublished research).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

    Seems weak in several ways.. was this study peer reviewed?

    February 21, 2011 at 16:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. koon baby

    yeah i can dig dat

    February 21, 2011 at 16:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. ShakingMyHead

    Lack of fear of punishment and pre-disposition to not feel guilt are SEPARATE from knowing right from wrong and still choosing to do wrong. No special treatment required. Choose to be a criminal (regardless of motivation i.e. hate, lack of fear of punishment, boredom, etc) and be treated like one.

    February 21, 2011 at 16:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Dave

    "a strong heritability"

    Sounds like a stong argument for an reproductive on/off switch – and maybe some licensing requirements – before you can pop out your own little criminal gang...

    February 21, 2011 at 16:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. George

    It's simply amazing...Because "scientists" have done research, we are suppose to just accept their theories...this is the height of ridiculousness. If somehow we accept this, we will slowly begin to open ourselves to other categorizations that will catch someother people...So you are not prone to be a criminal, but we find that you will be prone to be financially irresponsible...or prone to be a terrorist...where will it end...be careful what we buy into.

    February 21, 2011 at 16:12 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Not a doctor

      George, if you had actually read the article, you would have noticed that there were several disclaimers about this not being conclusive. Do you know what that means? Or, do you simply reject any idea that has science attached to it?

      February 21, 2011 at 16:20 | Report abuse |
    • SteveW928

      George, it is a reading of the science data and interpretation of what it means is going on. The sad part is that it is becoming quite popular in cognitive studies. It's kind of like looking at the electronic patterns in computer chips and trying to decide if there is a programmer or if the computer itself developed the program. The problem is that the latter is what naturalistic evolution would demand, hence the popularity. The problem is that many of these scientists haven't taken enough philosophy to understand where such theories lead. Determinism.

      February 21, 2011 at 19:39 | Report abuse |
  6. Shannon

    I can understand why it is difficult for people to have remorse for criminals, I realy do. But when I think of people with mental illness I can't help but have compassion. I have worked with children and adolescents with mental illness and it is apparent that there are many things out of their control. If we were able to absolutely prove (and I do mean absolutely) that there was a biological factor that caused someone to commit a crime I do not think we should be treating them like the common criminal. They have an illness and should be treated as such. I don't believe someone should be able to walk the streets after they have murdered someone, but they should be treated as a person with mental illness. The reason we have so much crime is because people are not being treated for mental illness. Instead this country dumped people that needed treatment due to high costs of care and then end up spending more money to keep them incarcerated. It just makes no sense. I look forward to future developments on this reasearch.

    February 21, 2011 at 16:14 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Sheila

      I don't think you understand the definition of remorse, of course we don't feel deep and painful regret for wrongdoing criminals – that's not eve grammatically correct. Though mental illness is a factor there are many other reasons we have crime in our society; it won't all suddenly go away if everyone is evaluated and treated if necessary for mental illness. We have a long way to go in even being able to diagnose these "conditions" and some of our treatments may not even work.

      February 21, 2011 at 16:30 | Report abuse |
  7. Psycho

    I am a pychopath, and I've got to say this makes sense to me. I"ve wondered often why I never felt guilty when I threw my sixth grade teacher down the stairs. I was so confused when given a guilt trip over it. Ever since, I have been experimenting with my guilt, or lack there of by crossing busy streets when the red people are on the crosswalk sign and snorting more meth than I should, etc. Also, I fear nothing (except clowns and bathrooms) and can't seem to cry when I watch Terms of Endearment. To conclude...when the red goose flies, it flies low. Thank you.

    February 21, 2011 at 16:17 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Sarah

      Thanks for the red goose comment. That has had me snickering for five minutes.

      February 22, 2011 at 12:50 | Report abuse |
  8. Dave

    "We must expand the death penalty to include lesser crimes!" Of course, the reason no one fears the death penalty is the fact that you are more likely to die of natural causes on death row.

    And, since there is no going back to being a productive citizen once convicted and sentenced, you may as well go full on the other direction – plan your escape, kill anybody you like (after the first one, it's all the same "punishment").

    The lack of fear is based on the lack of follow through of the "perceived threat of punishment."

    So what's to fear?

    February 21, 2011 at 16:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Interesting

    @ Hawaiikaos: And you felt the need to let everyone know that why?... Mmmm maybe your brain chemicals made you post a completely irrelevant and insignificant comment.

    February 21, 2011 at 16:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Randomquips

    Why does everyone feel a need to bash people at every given opportunity? This doesn't have a single thing to do with politics, yet you can't muster the self control to not type something about it.

    February 21, 2011 at 16:23 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Michael Dichael

      I'm tired of people who bash other people and tell other people not to type things about it. I wish those people would muster some self control and not type something about it.

      February 21, 2011 at 18:03 | Report abuse |
    • SnoopDoggyDoggNiqua,YoWassupMayne,IlovePS3YO,wassup

      wassup people... hey does anybody have a ps3? add me brah... gimme all ur psn id's so i can add u thx and we can play thx let me know thx kbyeeeeeeeee :))))

      February 21, 2011 at 18:46 | Report abuse |
    • SteveW928

      On the contrary, it has EVERYTHING to do with politics! The implications of major opposing worldviews have HUGE implications for politics.

      February 21, 2011 at 20:02 | Report abuse |
    • SteveW928

      sorry, that was supposed to be a response to Randomquips above

      February 21, 2011 at 20:03 | Report abuse |
  11. parent

    I am amazed that this discussion ignores the questions of the mental health of the individuals. The current trend is to blame the parents for a misbehaving child. Maybe the brain issues are causing problems. Are all these difficult children "little criminals?" I don't think so. Some may be manifesting signs of mental illness early on. Mental illness can be treated. It would be especially useful if there was early recognition of problems, an understanding of the biological underpinnings, and appropriate treatment. This would keep us all safer. It would also reduce the pain of the mentally ill person–it is WAY more painful than most people understand. And, NO, I do not mean to say that all people with a mental illness are psychopaths–but there are manifestations of mental illness that do lead to criminal behavior and with treatment, the "problem person" can be in better control of himself.

    February 21, 2011 at 16:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Elizabeth

    This same problem comes up in theology. The Augustinian and Calvinist school of thought is that some people are predestined to be good, and others evil (because God knows ahead of time). However, there is another view that there is synergy (union) between God's gifts and our efforts; God's grace coming first, but requiring our participation, and that every person is predestined to salvation but some fall away. The psychiatrist Kramer found that depression actually shrinks portions of the brain, so that a sad child may "turn off" their ability to function emotionally, and children who are autistic or hyperactive may be helped with constant loving intervention. People who learn new things grow connections between brain cells. My vote therefore is with synergy, and against the view that we are stuck with heredity.

    February 21, 2011 at 16:30 | Report abuse | Reply
    • SteveW928

      That isn't really an accurate portrayal of Augustinian or Calvinist positions though. But, I agree that when certain definitions of human freedom and God's sovereignty meet it leaves theologians and philosophers in something that can't be fully worked out given our mental capacity.

      February 21, 2011 at 19:45 | Report abuse |
  13. John Doe

    You need all kinds of people to maintain a healthy society. While decreased fear levels due to lower amygdale function might create a criminal, it might create a courageous person, too – a person who isn't afraid to buck the system when the system itself becomes pathological.

    February 21, 2011 at 16:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Flora

    Great; another thing for helicopter parents to lose sleep over.

    February 21, 2011 at 16:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. tim

    alright so earlier i was on an article here about cutting, and how i thought that the internet really does influence kids to cut. and everyone told me i was wrong.

    well, you guys are correct. CNN is clearly catering to the crowd of parents who blame everything their kid does on ANYTHING ELSE. cutting? its the internet. shot up the school? video games. serial killer? bad set of brains. sorry honey, there was nothing we could do about it, the kid just had some bad brains!

    give me a break. here's how you tell if a kids gonna be a serial killer:
    1) you don't pay attention to them.
    2) physical/mental abuse.
    3) you are too busy working/sleeping/watching burn notice to spend some real time with your kids.

    i mean, yeah. some people are just crazy. but really? who took this article seriously? why would you ever even wonder if your kid is gonna become a serial killer? they won't if you spent any amount of time with your kids and got them help as soon as you notice a mental health issue.

    February 21, 2011 at 16:40 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Michael Dichael

      Some people should not be allowed to breed.

      February 21, 2011 at 17:57 | Report abuse |
  16. Ron

    There has already been a way to predict who would commit a crime. Look for someone with testicles. 90% of all murders are by someone with testicles.

    February 21, 2011 at 16:49 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ron

      I foirgot to point out that at least the victim of murder is also someone whoi had testicles too which is a lot better than having women killed.

      February 21, 2011 at 16:51 | Report abuse |
  17. CalgarySandy

    The amygdala does not just work on fear. It also works on anger. This is the fight / flight part of the brain and it fires as soon as it catches events that could be dangerous and determines whether to flee or fight. It fires and sends adrenaline through the body. It is after this has occurred that they conscious brain gets the messages. By then it is almost too late to adjust behavior. There is a kind of therapy that helps people deal with this. You learn to recognize the physical feeling and do mindfulness through counting, deep breathing and the like. That gives you some space to allow you to analyze whether the situation is dangerous. Of course, psychopaths probably do not want to control the adrenaline rushes.

    February 21, 2011 at 16:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Adam

    How about we just scan a childs brain and if the amygdala is small then we put that child in prison since we know they are going to grow up to be criminals....huh? great idea right

    February 21, 2011 at 16:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Sam

    There is no such thing as free will. It's hard to grasp, but anyone who really thinks about it will agree. All of our decisions and actions are based on neurological processes that we can't control, only some sort of perceived control. The foundation of these neurological processes, i.e. our memory, is based on past experiences that we had no control over.

    February 21, 2011 at 16:52 | Report abuse | Reply
    • SteveW928

      Kudos for your honesty at least. But, then allow me to change some bits in your brain so you don't waste any more time discussing irrelevant things. Eat, breed, dominate all!

      February 21, 2011 at 19:48 | Report abuse |
  20. Kramses86

    Nothing good can come from this! I had a brain scan when I was around 8. I was over active and disruptive in class. It was said to my family and I that I was going to have issues as I got older. I am 25 now and have had the same job for over 6 years. With no issues concerning others. I have relied on common sense, Faith, and family to help guide me in the right direction. The last thing we need is Government scientist experimenting on kids and locking them away for "Pre-Crimes"

    February 21, 2011 at 16:54 | Report abuse | Reply
    • SteveW928

      I think something good could come from study of the brain, but I'm afraid you're correct that nothing good is going to come from this kind of interpretation of the data. Naturalism is a most destructive kind of religion.

      February 21, 2011 at 19:51 | Report abuse |
  21. TGLAZ

    Scientists will always be trying to figure out everything they could ever know about the human brain, this is just another study and as they said is not conclusive. The results are interesting but what would be more interesting is a solution to the potential problem. That's the part I'll be waiting for, the solution.

    February 21, 2011 at 16:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Moodyme

    Please...no more victimization of criminals! As stated in the article, this is a correlational finding, not "cause and effect." And anyway, people can and do overcome genetics (and "nurture" deficits as well). One of my parents was an abusive alcoholic, which makes me statistically more likely to be prone to addiction (and child abuse). I have chosen to avoid drugs and alcohol. I don't have kids. My life is what I have made out the cards I was dealt. Anyone who breaks the law should be appropriately punished. I don't care if daddy was mean to him or his amygdala is smaller than average. If he is sane and intelligent enough to know right from wrong, he had to option to say no.

    February 21, 2011 at 16:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. cathey

    there were few positive post for the people labeled [ at risk] yes the people would make great service personnel in the military and we need more folk to enlist/ there will always be wars/ and there are those wall street corporate types able to make those ruthless choices that would give most folk a coronary or drive em to suicide/ we need folk like this/ don't write em off cuz your scared .

    February 21, 2011 at 17:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Dr Rod

    As the researcher says, correlation is not causation. How about this – We know that many areas of the brain have "critical periods" in early infancy/childhood where they develop (or don't) depending on the environmental situation. Examples include binocular vision and phoneme recognition. Perhaps if a small child is deprived of experiences associating misbehavior and punishment, the amygdala fails to fully develop. For that matter, the amygdala mediates other emotions as well, and so other missing experiences (like being praised for accomplishment) in childhood could lead to emotional disconnects in adulthood. The maxim that our grandparents used for this was "As the twig is bent, so grows the tree."

    February 21, 2011 at 17:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. LEB

    Obviously those who commit crimes need to be punished. Understanding how brain chemistry and structure influences behavior does not negate the fact that MOST criminals are consciously aware of their behavior, and choose to cause harm, which therefore warrants punishment.

    However, this new research IS something that could help amend some serious problems in our incarceration systems, since few criminals are ever rehabilitated. Right now, we just throw them in jail for a while, and if they live long enough to get out, they're usually unsuited for normal society and end up re-offending. There are no treatment programs in place, no medical or psychiatric procedures undertaken while these individuals are incarcerated to try to actually cure them. If criminals could be cured of whatever is wrong with their brain chemistry, it would go a long way in both lowering the prison population AND reducing serious crimes.

    Or in the case of young offenders, preventing serious crime all together. If a 15 year old boy is arrested for assaulting another student, ordered by the court to undergo medical and psychiatric testing to determine if his brain chemistry is abnormal, and then ordered to follow treatment plans that will help him achieve social normalcy, then this simple intervention in his youth may prevent him from hurting more people in the future, as well as allow him to live a normal life rather than one behind bars. Early intervention wouldn't be a necessity just for the safety of others, but also so that a kid with his whole life in front of him might have a second chance at just being a normal kid.

    February 21, 2011 at 17:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Fabian MelGar

    The question of criminal responsibility doesn't just apply to someone who has a brain physically predisposed to criminality, it also applies to someone whose life experience, which they have no control over, has made them a criminal.

    February 21, 2011 at 17:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. LIP

    Has anyone given any thought to the fact that humans have been around developing survival skills for millions of years and survival could very well be interpreted as criminal behavior. We have only been 'so called civilized' for a few hundred years if even that . Many of the negative traits mentioned fit perfectly into the aggressive male that could also be called good leader traits.
    More thought and consideration needs to be applied to the past before we can begin to analize the present or the future and give these kids a break before labeling them psychopath or any other label some psychologist wants to banter about.

    February 21, 2011 at 17:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. derptard

    I'm going on a thought crime Spree right now.

    February 21, 2011 at 17:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Mayasun


    February 21, 2011 at 17:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. malcolm

    We could see this study as an in-road to developing proactive solutions, i.e. early sensitivity training?

    February 21, 2011 at 17:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Will

    Search and ye shall find. All this stuff needs to be prospectively validated. I hate the junk science that makes it into the mainstream press every single day...

    February 21, 2011 at 17:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. IamthatIamKatie

    WARNING: This article doesn’t mention the amount of socialization or education these children received before the age of 3! The amygdale, like any other part of the brain, works under the “use it or lose it” response. Shortly put: If a bunch of 3 year olds have tiny amygdales they probably weren’t introduced to the same social situations that would have devolved fear and/or empathy. Thus parenting and peer influences would play a key role here- not genetics. Leaving this out of the article is blatantly biased as far as I’m concerned! People are NOT born criminals, people have endless possibility- for better or worse!

    February 21, 2011 at 17:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. IamthatIamKatie

    WARNING: This article doesn’t mention the amount of socialization or education these children received before the age of 3! The amygdale, like any other part of the brain, works under the “use it or lose it” response. Shortly put: If a bunch of 3 year olds have tiny amygdales they probably weren’t introduced to the same social situations that would have devolved fear and/or empathy. Thus parenting and peer influences would play a key role here- not genetics. Leaving this out of the article is blatantly biased as far as I’m concerned! People are NOT born criminals, they are born with endless possibility, for better or worse!

    February 21, 2011 at 17:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. humph

    WARNING: This article doesn’t mention the amount of socialization or education these children received before the age of 3! The amygdale, like any other part of the brain, works under the “use it or lose it” response. Shortly put: If a bunch of 3 year olds have tiny amygdales they probably weren’t introduced to the same social situations that would have devolved fear and/or empathy. Thus parenting and peer influences would play a key role here- not genetics. Leaving this out of the article is blatantly biased as far as I’m concerned!

    February 21, 2011 at 17:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Michael Dichael

    Of course genetic material matters. It's what makes a human a human, and a monkey a monkey. However, there's a fine line between someone who's mentally challenged, and someone who just loves to hurt other people. Then there are horrible parents who just don't know how to raise children. Some people should not be allowed to breed. Having said that, some people are just rotten beyond help, and those people need their punishment. The "I was born like this" isn't going to cut it. If you ever watch the show "HARD TIME" by National Geographic, you'll see it does help some of the problem children. We need more of this... make it mandatory for all high school students to experience it. There is still that small % that will never change. If they kill someone, automatic death penalty. If you are proved to be a future threat, death penalty. Do you know it costs us tax payers about $20-25 thousand per year for each loser in prison? That's money that could be going to your children's education.

    February 21, 2011 at 17:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Jesus Mynuts

    "Moreover, all of the data he reports is correlational, meaning he hasn't proven that these brain abnormalities cause criminal behavior."

    The science articles CNN posts are purely sensational. At least this one clearly states the study shows correlation NOT CAUSE.

    "Kids brains MAY hold CLUES to future criminals." So ambiguous. May hold clues. Any number of factors may hold clues about future criminals. This study shows no cause of criminal activity in adolescent brain chemistry, so why does CNN host it? - Because its implied, NOT proven, conclusion is sensational. This is irresponsible journalism in my opinion. Highly misleading if you're not a critical reader. CNN sells headlines, not information.

    February 21, 2011 at 17:53 | Report abuse | Reply
    • SteveW928

      A) There are few critical readers these days. That's why this works so well.
      B) This is an extremely popular view among many of the top scientists who work in the mind-brain area.

      Basically, it is becoming the presumption in pop science:

      February 21, 2011 at 19:55 | Report abuse |
    • LEB

      It's already well-known that the functioning of the amygdala has an impact on an individual's overall personality, so I don't see this piece as sensationalism so much as an overview of a study that suggests the role of the amygdala may also impact a tendency toward criminal behavior. No where did the article claim to blame solely brain chemistry, and in any case, there would be no reason to believe that brain chemistry was anything more than one piece of the puzzle.

      Not everyone who has a genetic tendency toward depression ends up developing depression, so not everyone with a weird amygdala will become a criminal. Being AWARE of contributing factors simply helps scientists, doctors, and mental health experts develop better methods of intervention... and perhaps, someday, better cures.

      February 21, 2011 at 21:31 | Report abuse |
    • SteveW928

      Or maybe an individual's overall personality has an impact on the functioning of the amygdala.

      February 21, 2011 at 21:52 | Report abuse |
  37. mgwgm

    I think we should scan every kid before they can get into school. If their almond is oddly shaped in their brain, let's load 'em up on drugs and strike some fear into them... then maybe all our problems will be solved. If we can get everyone on drugs to fix all their problems, the world will be a better place.

    February 21, 2011 at 18:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Conic, Montgomery Al

    This is not new. I remember reading about this many years ago. These traits are the same as any other traits we may have; the color of our eyes, hair, weight etc. Why couldn't a propensity for violent behavior be genetic as well? I believe it was discovered that different races have more of the genetics for being violent/criminal than others. And no, that's not racist. Indian Americans have a propensity to have dark colored hair and skin. Of course, there is no reason that just because someone has a propensity to be overweight that they absolutely must be. We have some ability to override our genetic programming. But, genetics do play heavily, even with the propensity to engage in any addiction or criminal behavior.

    February 21, 2011 at 18:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Morgana

    This article is Bulls**t. If we start projecting people's future behavior on them, it is US who create it, not their brain. There is no behavior in your genes, there are possibilities, but there are soooo many more factors that the idea presented here is ludicrous, dangerous and irresponsible.

    February 21, 2011 at 18:16 | Report abuse | Reply
    • SteveW928

      Heh.... don't sugar coat it! 🙂 But, I heartily agree.

      February 21, 2011 at 19:56 | Report abuse |
  40. Mahender GORIGANTI, MD

    Some so call scientific studies can be very unscientific. For example in this study they may have failed to study the subtle parental characteristics and other environmental situations that may have led to these conclusions. For example I never failed to make my son understand empathy and behave accordingly since he is only 2 year old ( 9 years now). Every child is expected to try out all kinds of behavior. It is a natural instinct of every animal that includes us. I hope people do not buy into pseudo scientific conclusion especially psychological based diagnoses that often enough proved wrong several years later, at times decades later.

    February 21, 2011 at 18:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mike

      I'm sure you deal with a lot of psychiatry within PM&R.

      February 21, 2011 at 19:17 | Report abuse |
  41. fotokat

    There is a scientific researcher that had his profile for these same genetic anomolies and markers. He found that he "should" have been a psycopath but he ended up pretty great. He had a strong upbringing with loving parents and never exhibited any of these tendencies. There are statistically a small number of true sociopaths and many of them come from abusive homes.They also tend to exhibit a pattern of behavior that can be traced to childhood. If we have a society that is paying attention to our children, these kids will stand out. True sociopaths that lack any empathy, not fear, empathy, cannot be cured but they are very small in number. The idea tha kids that exhibit certain genetic traits can be tested and somehow break them down into groups to find the true sociopath is a scary one. Ask yourself if you are the parent that turns over your rough and tumble son to a government facility for "training"?

    February 21, 2011 at 18:45 | Report abuse | Reply
    • TheLeftCoast

      According to the book 'The Sociopath Next Door,' 4% of Americans are sociopaths.

      February 21, 2011 at 19:50 | Report abuse |
  42. Dan

    Oh no, they're all thoughtcriminals its like 1984.

    February 21, 2011 at 18:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. kto

    I want to know what happened the first three years – before the kids were tested – did they have proper nutrition, appropriate social stimulation, did they live with parents who were able to provide for their emotional, mental, physical, needs or were they in homes with domestic violence and other stress factors. more and more research is saying that 75% of brain development occurs after birth and that it happens in the first three years of life. without this information there is no way for the reader to have an informed opinion on the research

    February 21, 2011 at 19:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. ann

    This article provides some interesting points, but I also think the environment the child is raised in can play a huge role.

    February 21, 2011 at 19:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Forteaneye

    So many here with no compassion. I wonder who really is sick? In the future punishment will be partly based on a persons biological proclivities. But we must also be very cautious that we do not discriminate against someone prior to them actually committing a crime. When someone who is likely to offend is identified they should receive treatment from an early age.

    February 21, 2011 at 19:32 | Report abuse | Reply
    • SteveW928

      Umm.... you do realize that on this view, compassion is just another brain-program produced by environment, which may or may not be beneficial to evolutionary advancement of the human species... right?

      February 21, 2011 at 20:01 | Report abuse |
  46. TheLeftCoast

    Research has shown the horrific impact that early childhood abuse and neglect have on the brain. The analytical left brain development is irreparably damages, and the emotional right brain is hyper-active. So, these kids have learning disabilities, get put in special ed, and typically drop out of school as early as they can. Effective early interventions include music therapy and mindfulness training. There's a great non-profit called Mindful Schools that is helping kids tap into their 'inner compass' to regulate their emotions and their behavior. Without intervention, tragedy is a typical outcome.

    February 21, 2011 at 19:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. Stacey

    You can be born with all the risk factors in the world, but if your environment is not perpetuating these risk factors then there is no issue.

    February 21, 2011 at 19:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. Amber

    I believe that all persons are able to control themselves and know right from wrong. Yes, some may have some sort of mental disorder but that doesn't mean that one it gives them an excuse to be wrongful and two that they can't control themselves and three that they are unable to understand right from wrong. I also think that no criminal should be justified for their wrong doing because of their brain abnormalities.

    February 21, 2011 at 20:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. steph91

    I don't see how free will can be anything more than an illusion since our neurons are at the "will" of the laws of quantum physics. Not to say that brains cannot be changed, but one must be lucky enough to be exposed to the right experience.

    February 21, 2011 at 20:28 | Report abuse | Reply
    • annon

      Well, what is quantum physics? It's based on randomness. The question then becomes, was it random how you acted out? Or was there something else that controlled the outcome beyond the randomness? That is the "free will". The randomness in quantum physics allows the free will to exercise itself. If the physical universe was rigid and follows strict causal effect, we would not even need to be conscious or even have illusion to be conscious, because everything in the future is determined at the beginning of the universe.

      February 21, 2011 at 20:53 | Report abuse |
  50. annon

    It's dangerous to associate genetics to future actions. People may have propensity for certain actions, but in the end it's whether they eventually acted out in one way or another. And everyone can be molded as a criminal or as a saint. Even Mother Theresa can be conditioned to be a criminal in the "right" environment. Maybe hardened criminals could have been very productive if the society had given them the right nurturing environment.

    Correlating fear with crime is also naive. Just like the article says, the white collar criminals had more logical thinking. What if they had a lot of fear but their logic concluded that they will never get caught? What if someone had no fear of trying something not many dares to do, like artists, explorers, inventors, leaders, etc.? We would still think the Earth is flat.

    By "punishing" people with certain genetic propensity, we may end up breeding fearful slaves who cannot dare to give new thoughts or dare to question the current status quo.

    February 21, 2011 at 20:45 | Report abuse | Reply
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