home
RSS
Inside young offenders' brains: Where impulsiveness comes from
June 27th, 2011
03:00 PM ET

Inside young offenders' brains: Where impulsiveness comes from

There's new research to challenge the idea that a young convicted criminal can't change his or her behavior. A study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that the brains of juvenile offenders aren't necessarily maturing abnormally; rather, they are delayed in their typical development.

"It raises very important questions about our treatment of juvenile offenders," said Benjamin Shannon, of the Department of Radiology at Washington University, St. Louis, and lead author of the study. "We need to have a discussion about the idea that these people deserve very harsh prison treatment, that someone at the age of 14 can be ruined for life."

More than 90,000 people aged 20 and younger are incarcerated in residential placement facilities, according to the most recent statistics from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

Researchers looked at more than 100 juvenile offenders incarcerated in a maximum-security facility. They found specific patterns of brain activity associated with impulsive behavior.

"What we found was that it was the relationship between their motor planning regions and other parts of the brain associated with attention and control that predicted whether they were impulsive or not," Shannon said.

Study authors then wanted to find out whether they would see these effects in non-offenders, and whether they would fade in older individuals. Researchers tested 95 people aged 7 to 31. And they did find that younger brains seemed to have a "more impulsive" brain connectivity pattern; older participants' brains seemed to have a "less impulsive nature," Shannon said.

In other words, although the imprisoned young people received severe punishment, they have the potential to grow out of their impulsivity just like other children, and therapies may be developed to help them do that, he said.

"These juvenile offenders, they're not monsters, they're not something completely out of the ordinary. They're basically on the same developmental trajectory as the rest of us; they're just delayed a bit," Shannon said.

The next steps would be to follow up with these participants to see if the brain patterns have changed, and to see if there's therapy or training inspired by these brain relationships that might help, he said.

This research is not aimed at using brain scanning in a preemptive way - it's not to be used as a means of seeing who might be predestined to commit crimes based on brain patterns, Shannon said.

But it does contribute to a growing body of research suggesting that the brains of young offenders are different - even some 3-year-olds have brain signatures associated with committing a crime in the future. For more on that subject, check out this Q&A about the nature vs. nurture questions that arise.


soundoff (264 Responses)
  1. jjrc1

    no really I thought it was the knees...

    June 27, 2011 at 16:06 | Report abuse | Reply
    • bro

      i literally laughed so hard

      July 13, 2011 at 15:49 | Report abuse |
    • peteq

      More data to support the fact that child imprisonment is not only immoral, but increases american crime directly. The US is one of the only countries in the world that is foolish enough to imprison our children. Troubled children are 97% rehabilitative (unless they are placed behind razor wire or bars).

      August 15, 2011 at 10:18 | Report abuse |
  2. Linda Davis

    HOG WASH!!!

    June 27, 2011 at 16:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Rob

    I always knew Philip K. Dick was on to something.

    June 27, 2011 at 16:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Joe Keepers

    So there are two burning questions that come to mind:
    1) Are their more juveniles incarcerated now because of "zero tolerance" policies implemented across the nation now in schools and society in general? Do the prevent the proper treatment/education of kids that make mistakes. That is does in prevent them from quickly rejoining " normal" society and continuing the educational process of what is acceptable?
    2) If a three year old's brain shows "brain markers" of future criminal behavior, doesn't that indicate that the parenting process between 0 and 3 is a lot more important than recognized and given the relative infrequency of criminal behavior in society, doesn't that given us a chance to identify the factors that would lead to those markers at the ripe old age of 3 and future criminal behavior.

    June 27, 2011 at 17:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. setlib

    Speaking as a mother of a child with ADHD - by "impulsiveness" they are probably talking about the same delays in executive function that are associated with ADHD, a neurological disorder present in 5-10% of the population which is linked to difficulty in school and higher crime rates. If elementary school teachers and pediatricians were better trained at recognizing ADHD and could begin catching those children early and train them how to compensate for their impulsivity and be more successful, you might see an improvement in high school graduation rates and a reduction in crime. It's far cheaper to prevent crime when kids are young than to incarcerate them later.

    June 27, 2011 at 17:47 | Report abuse | Reply
    • sienna

      I agree, early intervention is important in establishing behavior modifications for these children.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:01 | Report abuse |
    • Jim

      The problem is there seems to be a stigma associated with ADHD, even within the schools. People seem to be more concerned about "over diagnosing" ADHD than they care to help children. We need to educate adults, Teachers, School Administrators and School boards. Children who are diagnosed and medicated are less likely to use illegal drugs later in life and have better outcomes (eg. fewer convictions).

      June 28, 2011 at 10:05 | Report abuse |
    • Psych nurse joe

      I agree totaly.

      July 14, 2011 at 05:44 | Report abuse |
  6. FredD

    The primary reason for the increase in juvenile sentences is the desire to please victims and/or their families. That should be irrelevant.

    June 27, 2011 at 18:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Bob

    Retribution is a sign of an immature individual. All things that anyone does is due to genetics, their past history and their current environmental scenario. No one can change any of these at time zero, that is at the actual present time. We can only make a prediction of what the best solution is and then act accordingly. This is the skill that needs to be taught. Criminals are not looking ahead. It has been well demonstrated that children that suffer abuse and adults under a large amount of stress have a shorter time horizon than those who have good childhood experiences and are experiencing reduced stress levels. These situations are all due to the environment. The only way to change behavior is to provide experiences consistent with performing the desired behavior. That takes planning and practice. That is what parents and teachers should teach.

    June 27, 2011 at 19:16 | Report abuse | Reply
    • DaveNYUSA

      Lemme guess; you are the parent that blames all bad on teachers, and take credit for all the good, right?

      June 28, 2011 at 01:21 | Report abuse |
    • Kay

      I agree with Bob. Also I think that there are fewer people willing to do this with their children, because of stress, no time, or laziness, but they have to make time and be consistent with helping these kids change their behavior.

      June 28, 2011 at 09:52 | Report abuse |
  8. julianpenrod

    The past has seen many other "explanations" for criminal activity, all of which were claimed by many to "seem right at the moment", then were condemned by many as "insipid and moronic" when they failed to work. Abuse when they were young, not counting those who had fine childhoods or were the abusers themselves. Not having role models, which fell apart in less than half a generation of government approved role models being provided in schools. Poverty which, among other things, didn't explain kids from good families becoming criminals or criminals who made a big score not using it to better their way of life. Ten or fifteen years from now, if this idea of "mental age not catching up with physical age" is employed, which of its failings will be what people then call the most obviously idiotic? The fact that, if these young people have such depleted mental mahe-ups, why isn't this same kind of behavior seen in younger children or the right mental age? What about the depraved indifference to human life that so many even young criminals show? It's not that they don't know the meaning of life yet, many of them know what life is and still seek to destroy it. Painfully. It's apparently all an attempt to get around acknowledging a principle reason for wanton criminality, the lack of senses of empathy, sympathy and a respect for ethics.

    June 27, 2011 at 21:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. D Caf

    Why even print this when you still need to follow up in a few years with these participants to see if their brains changed. Come back when this (costly) study is complete. Since the brain is still developing into early adulthood, there should be no surprise that changes have taken place. Since human brain development has been going on ALWAYS, it still won't be a souce as to why there are more young, violent criminals in the world today

    June 28, 2011 at 00:22 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Kay

      Actually there are not more young violent criminals in the world today than before. What we have today is a more prolific media, who has the capability of reporting everything simultaneously and usually only reports what the "bad" kids do, because people don't want to hear any good news.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:00 | Report abuse |
  10. DaveNYUSA

    "Brain holds clues to impulsiveness"
    Now there is some in depth journalism!

    June 28, 2011 at 01:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. HumHum

    Fine, create nice well behaved kids to be upstanding upright citizens till the final ends and unproven afterward and more proveable nothingness like shutting down a lightbulb. There is a post Maoist belief that there is now and then there is nothingness that sums up there version of atheism.
    Real solution is to prevent the creation of them in the first place from impulsive mothers and fathers that is still badly studied even today.

    June 28, 2011 at 05:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Mike

    When a child is made to feel bad, about a behavior that is cyclic, the behavior does not stop. Children who are badly treated, are more immature, and by badly, I do not mean beaten or anything like that, but rather, being shouted at, for childish behavior, keeps tha child immature. THat happens with drugs, impulses, bad words, masturation, even sucking the thumb.

    July 8, 2011 at 11:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Gael McCarte

    http://www.blogher.com/justice-department-western-australia-ran-amuk

    Justice needs a total overhaul

    July 30, 2011 at 09:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. peteq

    Stop child imprisonment and we will see an immediate drop in crime and the decline will increase over time as we discontinue developing criminals.

    August 15, 2011 at 10:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Olivia

    This design is weickd! You definitely know how to keep a reader entertained. Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved to start my own blog (well, almost HaHa!) Fantastic job. I really loved what you had to say, and more than that, how you presented it. Too cool!

    May 24, 2012 at 18:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. wheel refurbishment Lymm

    Heya i am for the first time here. I came across this board and I in finding It truly useful & it helped me out a lot. I am hoping to offer one thing back and help others such as you helped me.

    June 13, 2012 at 19:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Woodrow Colden

    Sahte Para Kontrol

    http://www.x0syodYECa.com/x0syodYECa

    October 4, 2016 at 10:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Sindy Littell

    This is the awesome wonderful search system in the planet

    http://google.com

    April 20, 2017 at 03:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. KbrgMile

    price generic viagra where to get viagra online viagra for women in india

    November 25, 2020 at 14:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. FmsgEncox

    asian herbal viagra butea superba what is stronger viagra or levitra que pasa si tomo una vez viagra

    November 25, 2020 at 14:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. DbsfZisse

    cost of generic viagra sildenafil over the counter canada viagra generic best price

    November 26, 2020 at 01:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. FdbvZisse

    sildenafil generic sildenafil 100 capsules can you buy viagra online uk

    November 26, 2020 at 22:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. JsweCrulk

    buying sildenafil 100mg sildenafil 50 mg best price viagra for females

    November 27, 2020 at 05:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. FqfEncox

    review article teaching essay writing middle school essay writers

    November 29, 2020 at 14:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. FnsbEncox

    stephen king essay on writing geography thesis professional powerpoint presentation

    November 29, 2020 at 22:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. KwgdMile

    research paper limitations homework help statistics the best college essays

    November 30, 2020 at 19:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. FsfEncox

    please help me with my homework essay writing reddit research paper exercise

    November 30, 2020 at 21:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. DvscZisse

    engineering homework help help homework math best college admissions essays

    December 1, 2020 at 04:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. FnrhEncox

    purchase viagra online how much does viagra cost uk viagra for women in australia

    December 1, 2020 at 18:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. FgsZisse

    writing a essay homework assistance pay later online resources for research papers

    December 2, 2020 at 02:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. FtghEncox

    i need someone to write a paper for me argumentative research essay essay 5th grade

    December 2, 2020 at 15:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. JgscCrulk

    help to write an essay essays services words to use in a college essay

    December 2, 2020 at 16:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. FnrdEncox

    viagra free trial coupon generic viagra 25 mg can you take prozac and viagra

    December 4, 2020 at 02:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. FqbfEncox

    cialis online america cialis dapoxetine australia cialis generic prices

    December 9, 2020 at 17:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. FbsbEncox

    female cialis cialis 20 mg cost order generic cialis online 20 mg 20 pills

    December 9, 2020 at 19:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. DvncZisse

    cialis generic 20 mg free cialis canada cialis with no prescription

    December 10, 2020 at 23:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. FgnsZisse

    buy cialis online cialis online europe cialis buy info/

    December 11, 2020 at 19:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. FsfgEncox

    cheapviagra purchsse viagra online how to puchase viagra in canada

    December 11, 2020 at 20:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. KhedMile

    safe to order viagra best viagra sites viagra uk

    December 12, 2020 at 10:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. FgrsEncox

    viagra no prescription viagra throught paypall viagra 100g

    December 13, 2020 at 21:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. JgsvCrulk

    viagra supper buying cheap viagra grapefruit viagra interaction

    December 14, 2020 at 05:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. DvnjZisse

    viagra on line health and care online viagra viagra action women

    December 15, 2020 at 22:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. FhsnZisse

    viagra gold overnight generic canadian viagra 24 medic viagra gold 800 mg

    December 16, 2020 at 18:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. FwsxEncox

    best drugstore primer online pharmacy reviews tops pharmacy

    January 9, 2021 at 14:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. KhthMile

    us pharmacy canada drugs canada pharmacy online

    January 9, 2021 at 14:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. AqwsEncox

    best canadian online pharmacy online canadian pharmacy treatment for erectile dysfunction

    January 9, 2021 at 17:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. JtmfEncox

    pharmacy rx canada drugs ed medications

    January 9, 2021 at 20:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. LokuEncox

    professional pharmacy ed medications 24 hr pharmacy

    January 11, 2021 at 09:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. FgvdZisse

    ed meds online ed express scripts pharmacy

    January 12, 2021 at 22:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. JlloCrulk

    medicine for erectile cheap erectile dysfunction pills online mens ed pills

    January 13, 2021 at 00:27 | Report abuse | Reply
1 2 3 4 5 6

Leave a Reply to BbshMile


 

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.

Advertisement
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.