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criminals actually show enhanced brain function in decision-making and other cognitive skills, according to Raine's unpublished research).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


    May 16, 2021 at 03:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. aika online download

    This website was... how do I say it? Relevant!! Finally I've found something that helped me. Thank you!


    May 16, 2021 at 06:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. rv state inspection near me


    May 16, 2021 at 11:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Authorized Mercedes Sprinter Service Centers Near Me


    May 16, 2021 at 11:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Roof Mounted A/C Leak Repair On Sprinter Van


    May 16, 2021 at 12:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Eva Notty And Maserati


    May 16, 2021 at 13:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Maserati Capital Usa


    May 16, 2021 at 19:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. 2013 Maserati Quattroporte


    May 16, 2021 at 19:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Sprinter Heater Valve Repair

    That is a great tip particularly to those fresh to the blogosphere. Simple but very accurate info… Many thanks for sharing this one. A must read post!


    May 16, 2021 at 20:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Sprinter Van Door Repair


    May 16, 2021 at 20:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Mc20 Maserati

    Saved as a favorite, I love your blog!


    May 16, 2021 at 22:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Sprinter Van Repair Near Me

    I'm very happy to discover this website. I need to to thank you for ones time due to this fantastic read!! I definitely appreciated every little bit of it and i also have you saved as a favorite to check out new information on your website.


    May 17, 2021 at 00:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Sprinter Repair

    Saved as a favorite, I love your website!


    May 17, 2021 at 00:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Keystone Sprinter Tank Repair Leaking


    May 17, 2021 at 02:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. 2006 Sprinter Transmion Repair


    May 17, 2021 at 02:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Egr Def Repair Mercedes Sprinter


    May 17, 2021 at 03:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. vegas online casino

    It's very effortless to find out any matter on web as compared to books,
    as I found this post at this web page.

    Here is my webpage :: vegas online casino

    May 17, 2021 at 05:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Repair 2006 Dodge Sprinter

    You need to be a part of a contest for one of the most useful sites on the internet. I am going to highly recommend this site!


    May 17, 2021 at 06:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Sprinter Alignent Repair


    May 17, 2021 at 06:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Repair Shops Near Me


    May 17, 2021 at 09:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. 2006 Sprinter Tank Fuel Pump Repair


    May 17, 2021 at 11:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. 토토사이트

    Your style is really unique compared to other folks I have read stuff
    from. Thanks for posting when you have the opportunity, Guess I will just book mark this blog.

    May 17, 2021 at 15:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. news

    Genuinely no matter if someone doesn't be aware of then its upp to
    other visitors that they will assist, so here
    it happens.

    May 17, 2021 at 16:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. https://918kiss-m.com/ace333/

    This info is worth everyone's attention. How can I find out more?

    Look at my web site gema ace333 (https://918kiss-m.com/ace333/)

    May 18, 2021 at 02:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. ace333 agent

    Excellent beat ! I wish to apprentice even as you amend your site, how could
    i subscribe for a weblog site? The account helped me a appropriate deal.
    I had been a little bit acquainted of this your broadcast offered brilliant transparent concept

    my homepage :: ace333 agent

    May 18, 2021 at 03:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. fire truck repair


    May 18, 2021 at 05:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. roof repairs orange county ca


    May 18, 2021 at 06:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. toilet repair near me

    When I originally commented I appear to have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now every time a comment is added I get four emails with the exact same comment. Is there a means you can remove me from that service? Thank you!


    May 18, 2021 at 09:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. download game ace333

    I’m not that much of a online reader to be honest but
    your sites really nice, keep it up! I'll go ahead and bookmark your
    site to come back down the road. Cheers

    Visit my web site – download game ace333

    May 18, 2021 at 14:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. 918kaya-m.com

    You could definitely see your enthusiasm in the article you write.
    The world hopes for more passionate writers such as you who are not afraid to say how they believe.
    All the time follow your heart.

    Visit my blog post; 918kaya ios (918kaya-m.com)

    May 18, 2021 at 15:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. heating air conditioning repair near me


    May 18, 2021 at 18:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. air conditioning repairman near me


    May 18, 2021 at 19:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Senior Care Near Me

    Way cool! Some extremely valid points! I appreciate you writing this write-up plus the rest of the site is really good.


    May 18, 2021 at 19:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Google Marketing Services


    May 18, 2021 at 21:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. mega888-my.com

    If some one needs expert view about running a blog afterward i recommend him/her to go to see this webpage, Keep up the pleasant

    Look into my site :: akaun test sky777 (mega888-my.com)

    May 19, 2021 at 00:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Commercial Roof Maintenance

    Nice post. I learn something new and challenging on blogs I stumbleupon every day. It's always useful to read through content from other writers and use something from other websites.


    May 19, 2021 at 01:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Optical Exam Near Me

    Hi, I do think this is a great web site. I stumbledupon it 😉 I may revisit once again since i have book-marked it. Money and freedom is the greatest way to change, may you be rich and continue to help others.


    May 19, 2021 at 01:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. energy pills walmart


    May 19, 2021 at 02:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Contact Exam Near Me


    May 19, 2021 at 03:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Internet Marketing Agency

    Way cool! Some extremely valid points! I appreciate you writing this write-up plus the rest of the website is also really good.


    May 19, 2021 at 04:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Ray Ban Eyeglasses Near Me

    Good info. Lucky me I discovered your website by accident (stumbleupon). I've saved it for later!


    May 19, 2021 at 05:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. 08 Maserati

    I blog quite often and I really thank you for your information. Your article has really peaked my interest. I will book mark your site and keep checking for new information about once a week. I subscribed to your Feed as well.


    May 19, 2021 at 06:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. profiles

    Смотрите на замечательный профиль http://droid-cash.ru/user/RobertLar/ внутри масса достойного

    May 19, 2021 at 07:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Digital Marketing Event Near Me


    May 19, 2021 at 07:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Social Media Marketing Specialist


    May 19, 2021 at 08:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. Social Media Marketing Specialist Near Me

    Way cool! Some extremely valid points! I appreciate you penning this post plus the rest of the site is very good.


    May 19, 2021 at 09:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. Gaylord Schmandt

    Can I simply say what a relief to uncover an individual who really understands what they're discussing online. You definitely know how to bring an issue to light and make it important. A lot more people ought to check this out and understand this side of your story. I can't believe you are not more popular since you surely possess the gift.


    May 19, 2021 at 10:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. present for new mom

    Good post. I learn something totally new and challenging on blogs I stumbleupon on a daily basis. It's always interesting to read content from other writers and practice a little something from other websites.


    May 19, 2021 at 10:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. Aluminum Welding Fabrication


    May 19, 2021 at 11:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. RV Inspection California

    Very good article! We will be linking to this particularly great content on our website. Keep up the good writing.


    May 19, 2021 at 14:44 | 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 Collision Repair Shop Near Me


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.